I'm of two minds on Bobby Burling's 2013 season with Chivas USA. He started the season in a reserve position behind Mario de Luna, Joaquin Velazquez and Walter Vilchez, but once Vilchez went down with a knee injury, Chelís put the MLS veteran in the starting lineup. Jose Luis Real didn't seem to be that enamored with him either, but after bringing him off the bench early in his stint with the Goats, he gave Burling eight straight league starts late in the season.
Based on the talent and availability of the center backs on the roster (besides Vilchez's injury, Steve Purdy was gone most of the middle part of the season on international duty, and Carlos Bocanegra couldn't play until July) Burling ended up being the most consistent defender on the team over the course of the 2013 season. The 29-year-old came into the season with more MLS experience than any other defender on the roster, and over time, he proved his worth by playing his way into the lineup under both managers. That's certainly commendable.
Here are Burling's statistics with Chivas in 2013:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||23||18||1,651||0||0||11||4||6||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
So it is clear that Burling was the Goats' most consistent defender in 2013, and in his second stint with Chivas, looks like he has shown enough that he has settled into the squad rather comfortably. On top of that, he has been very good at interacting with fans after games, even when the results didn't go Chivas' way. He has shown himself to be a good guy, and one that looks like a good member of an MLS team.
On the other hand, was Burling a good player or merely the best of a pretty poor bunch? While I think he certainly had good games, I think the abysmal showing of guys like Velazquez and de Luna flattered Burling by comparison.
He is big, and physical, though not to such an extent as that overpowers the rest of his game. He started in five of Chivas' six league wins in 2013, which is a pretty handy statistic. And when paired with a good leader at center back, he does a good job of carrying out the instructions on the field.
But there are drawbacks in his game, too. Burling is very slow, and is liable to get burned by pace very easily (though to be fair, that was a problem for all of Chivas' central defenders in 2013). His touch isn't that good either, though he hasn't been asked to play out of the back at any point in his MLS career, really.
The bottom line is whether Burling has the talent to be a regular contributor on a good MLS team. Although he has been a part of playoff teams with Chivas and the San Jose Earthquakes in the past, I think his ceiling is roughly where he was last season, as a solid player on a non-playoff team. The guy hustles out there, but I don't think he'll help get a team to the playoffs as a starter. With the Goats in 2013, however, he was just another player, and from the performances we saw on display in the defense, there's a great deal to be said for his consistency on perhaps the most unstable team in the league.
Burling signed a contract extension with Chivas in September that keeps him on the books through 2015. It is unclear if he got any substantial raise as part of the deal, but in 2013 he made $85,000 base salary ($88,333.33 guaranteed compensation), which is pretty affordable for a veteran with eight years of MLS experience.
Chivas still have moves to make in the offseason, with only four defenders on the roster at present. I would assume that Bocanegra will have the inside track on getting a starting spot, with Burling and newcomer Andrew Jean-Baptiste likely competing for the second CB spot. Since there isn't a coach yet, in addition to lacking the full complement of defenders on the roster, it's hard to predict what will happen. But I think Burling and AJB will probably have one of the most significant position battles heading into the 2014 season.
And for the weaknesses in his game, it is nice to have some stability at the club, and retaining a guy who seemed to fit in pretty well to a team that had lots of problems is a good thing. It will be interesting to see if he can see as much action in 2014, as Chivas embarks on yet another rebuilding year.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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