Cory Burke - Philadelphia Union - sliding in celebration
USA Today Sports

The hard work behind the rise of Union's "fearless" late bloomer Cory Burke

CHESTER, Pa. — During his first season with Bethlehem Steel FC in 2016, Cory Burke was yanked out of a game after 19 minutes because his coach didn’t think he was playing hard enough or fast enough.

“He was upset with me and understandably so,” Bethlehem’s Brendan Burke (no relation) recalled to MLSsoccer.com. “But we were upset with him. We gradually ironed out that disconnect between what his physical capabilities are and what the expectations were within the system in terms of defending from the front at all times.”

Now, after graduating from Steel FC to parent club Philadelphia Union, it’s gotten to the point where Union head coach Jim Curtin can’t take Burke off the field at all.

Heading into Saturday’s home game vs. the Montreal Impact (7:30 pm ET | TVAS – Full TV and streaming info), the 26-year-old Jamaican international has scored eight goals over the last four months, with Philly going a blistering 8-0-1 in the nine games he’s started up top. Interestingly enough, the scorching run began against the Impact in May, where Burke earned his first MLS start and rewarded his coaches with his first MLS goal.

“I don’t want to say we just threw him out there for Montreal and it just clicked because that’s not the way development goes for a player,” Curtin said. “Some things click fast, some things take time. This one took a couple of years of games with the Steel.”

Indeed, Burke’s progress with Bethlehem wasn’t always smooth. He missed some time due to injury and finished with four goals in 2016, before the team decided to bring him back and give him another chance the following season (even though he was older than many USL prospects). He then finished with nine goals in USL last year before signing with the Union this past offseason, working his way up the depth chart, and eventually pushing CJ Sapong to the wing and taking over as Philly’s starting center forward.

“We saw the potential for him to play at this level, for sure,” Brendan Burke said. “That’s why we pushed hard for him to get this opportunity. And he’s done the rest. There’s a physical fearlessness that he has, and an ability to keep pushing and pushing and playing at a high speed on both sides of the ball. If he can maintain this, man, it’s a great thing for the club.”

Can Cory Burke maintain this kind of production, or even get better? Fresh off an international window in which he scored a pair of goals for Jamaica in a 4-0 win over the Cayman Islands, his confidence is certainly growing by the day.

And he’s eager to keep his hot streak going against an Impact team he not only tallied his first goal against, but one that the Union are competing with for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Burke was also sent off for a dangerous tackle the last time the Union faced Montreal, prompting him to say he has “unfinished business” against them.

Burke on international duty with Jamaica | USA Today Sports Images

He has a lot more to prove to other teams around the league, too.

“I think I’ve got more to offer,” Burke said. “I can go further and score more goals. I’m looking to maybe [finish with] 15 goals. I know I’ve got more in me.”

Curtin agreed that the best may still be to come.

“He’s shown to be a very good striker in MLS and I think he he has the ability to even move on to a higher level,” the Union coach said. “That will be up to him how far he wants to take it, because he has a lot of potential.”

Stay connected: The all-new, completely redesigned, FREE official MLS app is your best mobile source for scores, news, analysis and highlights. Download:  App Store  |  Google Play