Like nearly every fan of the beautiful game, Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin has watched as many games in Germany's Bundesliga as possible since it became the first major European soccer league to return to play following beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike most, though, he's maybe more curious about the proceedings in the country's southeastern neighbors.
The scheduled return of the Austrian Bundesliga on June 2 means a potential return to action for on-loan Union forward Cory Burke as St. Kilden try to avoid relegation. With Burke's loan set to expire either at the end of June or the end of the season (currently scheduled for Fourth of July Weekend), Curtin believes the timing could give the Jamaican international a perfect jumpstart for a return to MLS.
"He has a job to do right now, and I hope he scores some goals and helps his team out," Curtin said of the Jamaican international during a conference call on Wednesday. "But at the same time we’re eager to get him back as well. He’s a really talented striker. And if you drop him in with the three great strikers we already have, that’s a really, really great pair, a really great group."
Burke hasn't appeared in an MLS match since May of 2019, originally going on loan in Jamaica because of visa issues, then moving to Austria in the winter on a half-season stint. He had made only three appearances for the Austrian basement dwellers before the pandemic brought play to a halt, but reportedly has since scored in a training match. Curtin also said Philadelphia technical director Ernst Tanner watched Burke train recently.
"Constantly in contact," Curtin said of the parties' communication. "Again, he is on loan. He still is our player. And then there’s complicated parts for everybody all over the world, in terms of travel and visas."
The Union currently have Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten on their books at striker, but Burke's return would give Philly another athletic, vertical and physical option. Since earning promotion from the club's USL squad, Burke has 12 goals in 36 MLS appearances over a season-and-a-half, and might have a leg up if MLS restarts in the summer just after the Austrian season has concluded.
"If you do think about it, it kind of works out a little bit perfect for us, in that he’s now staying active and fit several weeks ahead of our return to play," Curtin said. "He’ll get games there and hopefully he’ll get sharpness, and hopefully he scores goals and helps his team, and then we’ll re-evaluate it once that season does come to an end."
Curtin also revealed he's been in regular conversation with former playing teammate and coaching colleague Jesse Marsch, another former MLS fixture now in Austria as manager of title chases Red Bull Salzburg. As watching German games has informed Curtin what matches might feel like without fans, he says discussions with Marsch and others are even more helpful in terms of informing the logistical concerns of progressing from individual workouts to small group and eventually full team training.
There remains a moratorium on small group and full-team training in MLS until at least June 1, and on competitive matches until at least June 8.
"You’re getting ideas from them, in terms of each step now, when you’re going from individual training to the twos and threes. [It's] 'what did you do and what shouldn’t you do?' Curtin explained. "Jesse Marsch gave a tip that, early on because it was all they could do was pass once they got to the smaller groups, some guys were maybe getting sore groins because it was a lot more passing than they previously did in training.
"All these little things are big pieces of advice when you’re going through something for the first time."