Burke ready to lead as goalkeeper for Eastern

Redshirt-sophomore+goalkeeper+Jonathan+Burke+leads+the+men%E2%80%99s+soccer+team+in+a+huddle+during+Eastern%E2%80%99s+exhibition+match+aganst+Wisconsin+on+Aug.+14.

Photo courtesy of Simeon Packer

Redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper Jonathan Burke leads the men’s soccer team in a huddle during Eastern’s exhibition match aganst Wisconsin on Aug. 14.

Dillan Schorfheide , Assistant Sports Editor

Jonathan Burke said he does not feel any pressure taking over as the goalkeeper for Eastern’s men’s soccer team this season.

“A lot to live up to,” Burke said about former Eastern goalkeeper Mike Novotny. “He was one of my good friends and I trained with him for two years, so he helped me a lot with preparation and getting better as a goalie.”

After last year, Eastern graduated its star player and starting goalkeeper in Novotny, who was named the 2017-2018 Eastern Male Athlete of the Year, the 2017 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year and to the 2017 First team All-Summit league. 

Novotny was a solid last line of defense for Eastern, holding a .95 goals allowed per game average last season.

But Burke feels confident stepping in and filling some big and much-needed shoes. 

Coming into the preseason, head coach Kiki Lara said Burke was the team’s top choice, and that he came to the team’s fall camp fit and ready to take ownership of the position.

“He has become more composed and more of a gamer over the past nine months and stepped nicely into the big shoes Novotny left here,” Lara said.

Up until this point, Burke had limited college experience as keeper; he played in five exhibition matches in the spring.

So to get ready for his first whole season as goalkeeper this year, he played a lot of soccer during the offseason.

Burke said he played on a semi-pro team from St. Louis. He said the team played four matches in Canada and traveled all over the Midwest for matches, facing teams who had “high-level” college players with them. It was good experience for him to play against that level of competition consistently, he said.

Going into this season, Burke said he wants to take everything into consideration and figure things out and see what needs to be worked on, and being the goalkeeper, Burke considers himself a leader on a young team that features 11 freshmen and only one senior.

“Even as a freshman coming in as a goalie, you’re always kind of a leader,” Burke said. “You know, you’re in the back and control all the moving pieces. This will be my third year here, so I kind of understand the culture now and I’m one of the guys who have been here for a while. So they kind of look up to me because it’s a different culture for many of the guys transferring or the guys who played in high school and are coming into college.”

Lara said Burke takes pride in leading himself and the others on the team.

“He is someone who is very comfortable being involved in the environment and has a lot of pride in our program and EIU which is very good to see,” Lara said.

Part of being a leader on the team and helping the team mesh together is being together as much as possible, Burke explained. Whether it be at practices, at captain practices or getting touches on the ball any other way, he said he wants to make sure there is good chemistry flowing throughout the team.

This idea of having a good team chemistry, or brotherhood, is something Burke said “intrigued” him about coming to Eastern when he saw how Lara stressed being close to his team.

“No matter what you say on the field, everyone is brothers back in the locker room,” Burke said. “We’re all like best friends because we always hang out together.”

Burke helped lead his team to a 2-0 victory over Cincinnati to open the season Monday by making some key saves.

Facing an offensive barrage from Cincinnati in the second half, when Eastern was leading 2-0, Burke saved three close shots, including a penalty kick.

“My mindset going into it was that I knew I needed to make a big save so the momentum can stay with us and to keep the team’s energy and morale high as they were doing for me in the first half,” Burke said about stopping the penalty kick.

Monday’s victory is Burke’s first regular season win as a goalkeeper (he was keeper for Eastern for two spring scrimmage victories) and his shutout of regular-season soccer.

Burke said the team is feeling good and looking forward to the rest of the season after the victory.

As for Burke personally, he thinks this team can compete for the Summit League championship. The biggest obstacle for Eastern is Denver, so he said the Panthers will have to do their best to not let them score when the two teams meet.

After the two exhibition matches before facing Cincinnati, Burke said there were some small things for himself to smooth out.

Otherwise, he added, the biggest thing is to just keep getting touches on the ball, and he will get better every game. 

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]