New England Revolution General Manager Mike Burns is an original member of MLS, playing for the Revs from 1996 to 2000. A member of the 1998 United States World Cup team as well, the former defender has been with the Revs front office since 2005, his first as the Director of Soccer.
After a promotion in 2008 to Vice President of Player Personnel, Burns became the club's fourth GM in 2011, and started a rebuilding process that has led the Revs back to the MLS Cup Final for the first time since they played in three straight from 2005-2007. Our Seth Macomber caught up with him at the Revs training session today in Los Angeles, you can hear the audio here (open in a new tab):
"If I go back to when Jay was hired, and we sat down and looked at our roster, frankly we knew we weren't good enough," said Burns. "After 2011, we were coming off a 5-win season."
Burns and Heaps began the process of rebuilding a roster and a team that had struggled the past few years. There's hardly any holdover from those teams after Matt Reis' retirement last season. Chris Tierney, who signed in 2008, is the longest tenured player. Veterans Andy Dorman and Shalrie Joseph are back for their second stints with the club, and both were involved during the Revs run of success almost a decade ago.
"There were a lot of changes to the front office and in the coaching staff," Burns recalls. "Going into 2012 we signed a lot of players, a bunch we got right and few we got didn't. We knew that would be the case because you never bat a thousand (1.000). From 2012 to 2013 to this year, you've seen we've tried to build a team and a core of guys that we want to retain.
While the Revs haven't always found success with Designated Players and other major signings, it's the unheralded signings that often have brought the Revs the most success. Lee Nguyen was claimed off waivers from the Vancouver Whitecaps early in the 2012 season and was an MVP finalist in 2014. Jose Goncalves was brought in on loan last year, played every minute of the 2013 season, became team captain and was the league's Defender of the Year. Teal Bunbury was signed by the Revolution after being carted out by Sporting KC. Charlie Davies made enough of an impression during a 2013 loan spell, in which he barely saw any first team minutes, to be brought in full time for 2014.
But it wasn't so much his play on the field that impressed Burns, it was his character off the field as well.
"With Charlie, he was an interesting one because of the accident and the injuries and all that," began Burns. "Being with D.C. (United) and going back (abroad) he wanted to come back (to MLS).
"I don't want to speak for him, but there was a certain part of Charlie that wanted to come to us, and we knew that. And when you have a player that really wants to come and play for you, you knoe they are going to be in the right frame of mind. He's from the New England area, it meant a lot to him and we wanted to bring him back, we wanted to give him another chance."
And did that chance ever work out for both parties. Davies became the Revs' regular starting striker about mid-season and while his regular season numbers of three goals and four assists in 18 appearances (13 starts) might not be all that much, Davies is usually heavily involved in the Revs attack, occupying the centerbacks and creating space for Nguyen to operate in. But in the playoffs, Davies has become a force, and Burns couldn't be prouder of his young striker.
"You can see it in his attitude and when he shows up to training, he's happy. He's living where he wants to live, playing where he wants to play," gushes Burns. "You can't not feel happy for the guy. It's a great story, and for him to come back and have the second half of the year that he's had for us, it's pretty tremendous.
But Davies isn't the only young player to have found success with the Revolution during Burns' tenure. Diego Fagundez signed with the Revolution as their first Homegrown Player in 2010, and made his debut in 2011. Scott Caldwell was the second Homegrown Player from the Revs academy and after playing at Akron University he made his MLS debut in 2013. The two midfielders have each had long runs as starting players at wide and holding midfield roles, respectfully. It's just one part in the long rebuilding process that Burns began back in 2011.
"We knew we had to sign some younger players," said Burns, "and we felt that we had to do well in the draft and we feel like we did do that."
The MLS SuperDraft is sometimes More luck than skill, but looking at the Revs starting lineup, you'll notice several names that were picked up as draft picks. Chris Tierney was a Supplemental Draft pick in 2008, A.J. Soares was the 6th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Kelyn Rowe the 3rd overall in the 2012 draft, which was Burn's first as GM. Burns and the Revs traded up to the first overall pick to get Andrew Farrell in 2013 and turned several first round picks in 2014 into Patrick Mullins and Steve Neumann.The two rookies both contributed well, Mullins with a stellar May and Neumann lead the league in substitute appearances. The other four veteran players are all regulars in Jay Heaps' starting lineup.
But despite all that, Burns knows that despite all the great signings and acquisitions he's made over the years, you still need a little bit of luck. The Jermaine Jones transfer saga ended with a blind draw, and Jones in New England, something Burns is very happy about since the season turned around with Jones and has gotten the Revs back to another MLS Cup Final. But he can't rest, because regardless of tomorrow's result, the offseason begins tomorrow.
"I won't exhale until tomorrow night," replied Burns when asked about relaxing now that the Revs are in the final. "You have the Expansion Draft and the Re-Entry Draft next week so I might be able to exhale for maybe 5-10 seconds and then you're on to something else."
Just make sure if your team wins tomorrow Mike, you celebrate for a little longer than 5-10 seconds. You've earned it after all these years.