Injuries open opportunity for Burse

Back-stop hoping to be more than stop-gap in Columbus

OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha didn’t look far for help while goalkeepers William Hesmer and Andy Gruenebaum mend from injuries.

Ray Burse Jr., was already in Columbus doing postgraduate work at his alma mater after being released by FC Dallas a little more than a year ago.

“He practiced with us when he was with Ohio State,” Warzycha said. “He practiced with us when he was about to go to Dallas. He practiced with us all last year.”

Burse fended off the challenges of several other keepers to earn the starter’s shirt for Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal game vs. Real Salt Lake in Crew Stadium.

“Life is funny,” he said. “It’s good to be back in my college hometown. It’s an opportunity to play in front of some old college friends.”

Burse played 25 games for FC Dallas from 2006-09, but wasn’t planning on being with the Crew when camp opened in late January. With Hesmer still working his way back from a right shoulder fracture suffered last October and Gruenebaum in the midst of recurring hip problems, however, Burse got the call from Crew goalkeeper coach Vadim Kirillov.

“I really had no clue what was going on,” Burse said. “I was glad to pursue it and see where it led.”

He is expected to take charge of a backline that boasts two newcomers in Sebastian Miranda and Josh Gardner and two veterans in central defensive duo Chad Marshall and Andy Iro.

“Those four guys in front of you are the ones that make you look good,” Burse said. “They can also make you look bad as well, so you have to be a vocal leader so we have everyone in the right spot.”

Forward Jeff Cunningham thinks is ex-Dallas teammate will do fine.

“He’s very solid,” Cunningham said of Burse. “He’s had a few games (in preseason) and been in the league for a long time. We have full confidence he’ll step in and do a good job for us.”

Yet Burse is only on a temporary contract. Unlike rookie goalie Alex Riggs, the 26-year-old Burse would have to go on the senior roster if signed. Currently, Warzycha is noncommittal.

Burse knows Tuesday will be his audition – and not just for the Crew.

“I’m sure other teams around the country are watching, too,” he said. “You have to make the most of your opportunity and see where it leads.”

Join the chat on MLSsoccer.com for the Columbus Crew-Real Salt Lake CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday, beginning at 7:45 pm ET!