A Conversation with Steve Burns

From this month's GBW Magazine: MVictors.com's Greg Dooley sits down with the man behind Michigan Men's soccer, Steve Burns.

I sat for a few minutes on a tan couch in the lobby of the coach’s office upstairs at Yost Ice Arena.   Coach Berenson walked by swiftly, popping out of a meeting in one room then over to assistant coach Billy Powers’ office to chat.  Longtime hockey equipment manager Ian Hume wandered by and said hello.  But I wasn’t there to talk to any of those guys or to talk hockey.

Men’s head soccer coach Steve Burns shares the office inside Yost with Berenson and the hockey program and squeezed me in for a few moments to chat.  Burns is a busy man.  This August the finishing touches will be put on a $6 million stadium that will be arguably the finest college soccer facility in the land.  Most of his young team returns and will be boosted by a stellar recruiting class.  It’s an exciting time for Michigan soccer.

Burns, a ’89 U-M aeronautical engineering graduate, was kind enough to talk to me about the 2010 squad, the impact of the new stadium, the inner-workings of soccer recruiting, what advice coach Berenson has given him and much more.

GoBlueWolverine:  Many Michigan fans don’t get much exposure to the soccer program.  Can you give me the elevator pitch on the 2010 team? 

Steve Burns: We’ve got a team that was very strong last year and we returned 9 nine starters.  Last year’s team had 11 freshmen and four were starters.   So we’ve gotten through that freshman learning curve and we’re bringing in another great freshman class, another top ten class in the country.  What you’re seeing is a team that is really loaded up with future professional guys at a young age that’s going to achieve at a high level.   I think we’re a team that’ll easily complete in the top three in the Big Ten and be a NCAA tournament team.

GBW:  And your goals for next year?
Burns:  Exactly that.  Our team goal is to win the Big Ten, as it is every year, but I think we’ve got a realistic chance if everything comes together particularly the scoring side of it and the leadership side of it.  A team that has the potential to be a Sweet 16 team in the NCAA tournament.   We gotta get the breaks along the way.

GBW: Football fans are excited about the dedication of the renovated Big House in September, but arguably the biggest change on the athletic campus this fall will be the new soccer stadium. How big of a deal is this to you and this program?
Burns: It’s massive. Here we are now going into our eleventh year and it’s really just recently that we’ve had these beautiful practice fields and competition fields and now, a $6 million stadium being built. I was out there today and it’s magnificent.  It’s just magnificent.  It’ll put the fans right up on top of the game and it’ll be an intimidating place for opponents to come in and play.

GBW: The men’s varsity soccer program started in 2000, but you were the head coach of the men’s Club soccer team dating back to 1992, is that right?
Burns: Yes, and it was a labor of love because I had played for the Club team.  I went away for about a two year period and came back and realized that soccer coaching was what I truly wanted to do.  I just immersed myself with the Club soccer team and several youth jobs around town, and the Olympic development program.   Then there was a break where I ended up getting a job with a Michigan semi-pro team named the Michigan Bucks.  So I was really immersed in it but the Club was always my baby.   We continued to help the Club get better and better to the point where we won a couple of national championships on the club level.

GBW:  Speaking of jobs, did you run a coffee stand for a while in front of Ulrich’s in the early 90s?
Burns:  [laughs] Yes, and it was an immediate success.  After graduation I went to Seattle to go play soccer for a semi-pro  team out there, and my parents were really hoping I was going out there to work for Boeing [laughs].   But I wasn’t.  My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, came out there to visit and saw the whole coffee culture in Seattle and said, ‘Why don’t we start an espresso cart in Ann Arbor?’.   In Seattle at the time there was an espresso cart on literally every corner of the street.  I look at it and said, ‘That’s a great idea.’  At the time Ann Arbor was just getting primed for the coffee market. 

GBW:  Football recruiting has exploded; today fans know when the coach is in someone’s living room on the other side of the country.  And we get a little taste of that in basketball and even hockey recruiting.   Can you describe how soccer recruiting works, I mean, are you flying around the country looking at prospects?
Burns: When you look at any sport I think there is a common theme woven through it when it comes to recruiting.   We’re all fighting those battles of pitching our school and trying to woo the best players in the country to come to our school.   From a soccer standpoint, when you give a verbal everyone backs off and I appreciate that because when you get that verbal you don’t have to invest that much time in him until he gets on campus.  And then you’ve got to de-recruit him because he thinks he’s going to be The Man [laughs].  

So to answer your question, yes, we’re flying all over the country and we just started hitting Europe and Brazil as well.  You’re always looking for those difference-making players. 

Now, things are a little different here in the States.  There is national league, essentially, called ‘The Academy League’ and there are 76 clubs from Seattle to San Diego to New York down to Florida. 

Read more from Greg Dooley at MVictors.com. For the rest of the article, check out this month's GoBlueWolverine.com

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