CARSON, Calif. – The spot next to Carlos Bocanegra in the Chivas USA backline appeared up for grabs heading into training camp, especially after the club acquired Andrew Jean-Baptiste to help shore up a defense that surrendered the most goals in Major League Soccer last year.
Through the early going, though, veteran center back Bobby Burling appears to have solidified his place in the formation. His 180 minutes played might not be too indicative of things to come given that Jean-Baptiste (right adductor strain) has been listed on the injury report in recent weeks.
It's nothing new, though. After all, he is the fourth-longest tenured player on the Chivas USA roster despite only starting his second stint at the club in August 2012, and stuck with the club even after now-former owner Jorge Vergara acquired full control in late 2012 before relinquishing it last month.
And Burling continued to prove his worth in the season opener, showing he could not only be a survivor, but a major weapon for the Rojiblancos.
The coaching staff had a familiarity with Burling heading into the season, having seen him in 2012 when he was on trial with the Colorado Rapids. He impressed them even more this past preseason as position battles unraveled.
“We really liked what we saw there [in Colorado], so we already had a good knowledge base of what he brings to the table,” Chivas USA and former Rapids assistant coach Paul Caffrey told MLSsoccer.com. “He has just further enhanced our opinion. That guy is a warrior, through and through. He will play the same from the first minute through the 90th; it doesn’t matter. He’s one of those great players to have on your team because they inspire others with how they approach the game.”
Burling scored the game winner in Chivas’ season-opening 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire, heading in a Mauro Rosales corner kick in the 88th minute. It was the defender’s first goal since 2010. Jean-Baptiste, 21, scored once in each of his first two seasons with the Portland Timbers.
Caffrey said he would be stunned if the dramatic tally was the only set-piece goal the 6-foot-4 Burling scores this season.
“There’s no question that he’s a weapon,” Caffrey said. “If you ever wanted to teach somebody on a set piece how to head a ball, how to approach it and finish it, show them that video. That was textbook. You couldn’t do it any better. Now I’m sure other teams will be watching that because he is a weapon.”
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Burling does not have a set number of goals in mind (he has now scored only two in his nine-year career) but said he has joked with former San Jose Earthquakes teammate Chris Wondolowski about who would finish the year with more game winners. He’s not only motivated to complement Bocanegra at center back, but about making an impact offensively with Rosales now posing a threat whenever Chivas USA get a set-piece opportunity.
“It was obviously nice to get a goal early in the season,” Burling told MLSsoccer.com. “As soon as you get one, you feel like a monkey has been lifted off your back a little bit. Hopefully they come in bunches like forwards get them.”