Academics came first for Timber goalie

Family's expectations kept Ray Burse on a path to success
by: , BURSE

It would make sense if the Portland Timbers' new goalkeeper proves to be a student of the game. Ray Burse had the importance of studies drilled into him at a young age.

'I used to go to summer camps,' Burse says. 'But they were math and reading camps. I didn't do summer soccer camps. It was strictly academics.'

His parents in Kentucky continue to stress the importance of education. Burse, 23, left Ohio State after three years when FC Dallas of Major League Soccer drafted him, but he flew back and forth between Dallas and Columbus to earn a degree in American history last summer.

'As a family, we've always had a basic expectation that everyone would reach their fullest potential,' says Kim Burse, his mother. 'A bachelor's degree is the first step. But you need a master's or something beyond that.'

Raymond Burse, the goalie's father, reinforces those thoughts to 'Ray J,' the name they've always used for the oldest of their three sons.

'Education was always the No. 1 thing in my family, particularly growing up in the South,' the elder Burse says. 'They viewed it as an equalizer, and once you got a good education, nobody could take that away from you.'

Raymond and Kim Burse are shining examples of what education can do, too. Kim earned her MBA from the University of Kentucky, became the first black woman to serve in the state Cabinet and is vice president for corporate services at Goodwill Industries of Kentucky. Raymond was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford who went on to be president at Kentucky State and is vice president and general counsel for General Electric Consumer and Industrial in Louisville.

The Timbers' Burse remembers his dad taking an active role in his schooling.

'I had to write book reports in third grade,' Burse says. 'My dad - he's so obsessed with perfection - went through 10 drafts with me on one of them. I finally got to bed at 1 a.m. And when I woke up, my paper was completely changed; he'd stayed up and kept working on it.'

No wonder, then, that his father speaks of Burse's college education in the plural: 'We allowed him to go into the MLS draft and leave school early, with the stipulation that he finish - we didn't go to Ohio State to play soccer, we went there to get a degree.'

Family and the Catholic faith are important to the Burses, too.

'You must find out what God wants you to do, and pursue it,' Kim Burse says, adding that the children 'went to church every Sunday for a reason.'

Ray J's parents say they are fine with him focusing on pro soccer, for now.

'God doesn't want everybody to be the same,' Kim Burse says. 'I tell him, I don't care what you choose, just do your best.'

Raymond Burse was an excellent athlete himself. He was the first African-American to earn 'Blues' (letters given for competition against Cambridge) at Oxford, where he took part in crew, basketball, rugby and track and field (hurdles and sprints).

'There's nothing like seeing someone achieve their dream, and playing professional soccer is something Ray J's talked about all his life,' his father says. 'We're proud of him and happy for him.'

When Burse's soccer playing days are over, he might coach the sport, or follow his father into law, or get into sports administration. 'Maybe be an athletic director, hopefully at Ohio State,' he says.

Burse, 6-1 and 197 pounds, says last year was 'a breakout season for me.' He started six games with FC Dallas and posted two shutouts.

But he admittedly hadn't been playing as well of late, and 'it didn't look like I'd be the starter this year.' So when the Dallas coach called him in a few weeks ago and pitched the idea of Burse being loaned to the Timbers, the goalie prospect grudgingly understood.

'I accepted it, although I didn't envision myself being at this level,' he says. 'It made sense for my maturation as a keeper, so I'm coming into this with an open mind, wanting to work every day, make the best of the situation and hopefully win a championship in the process.'

Under terms of the loan, Dallas can recall Burse at any time. And, since an injury to backup keeper Josh Lambo, Burse has been in commute mode, suiting up with Dallas in case he is needed, then returning to Portland for practice and matches. Lambo could be out through May.

'It's a bit exhausting,' Burse says, 'but I think from now on I'm pretty much going to stick here.'

Burse is expected to start Thursday night at PGE Park when the Timbers open their season against Puerto Rico.

Burse, the grandson of an Air Force combat pilot who flew with Chuck Yeager, has the skills to become one of the top goalies in the U.S. At St. Xavier High in Louisville, he was an All-American -at forward. He was playing part-time in goal, too, but didn't move between the posts permanently until 'my club coach forced the issue, much to my chagrin.'

A few years later, 'I had to call him after the (MLS) draft and thank him.'

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Porltand Timbers

Next: The Puerto Rico Islanders, with former Timbers Edwin Miranda and Noah Delgado, visit PGE Park at 7 p.m. Thursday for the season opener. It's the first of four consecutive home games for Portland.

The Timbers opened 2007 with a 3-1 home win over Puerto Rico, even though Portland's Andrew Gregor missed two penalty kicks (he did score two goals). The Islanders tend to get stronger as the season goes on, and they won at home 1-0 over Portland late last year.

• Timber goalie Ray Burse says he is OK after taking a scary blow near the end of Friday's final preseason match. Burse was helped off the field after a collision with a University of Portland player. 'I thought it was more serious at first, but I think it just bruised the top of my foot,' he says. 'I'll be ready to go Thursday.'

• Last season, the Timbers took advantage of having five games against the expansion California Victory, now defunct. Portland outscored California 11-1, but in 23 other league games the Timbers enjoyed only a 21-17 margin over their league foes.

• Portland plans to carry 24 players but had only 20 under contract as of Monday morning. And that was with the announcement that central defender Scott Bolkan, 22, and midfielder-defender Vardan Adzemian, 24, have been loaned from the L.A. Galaxy. Both have been training with the Timbers for weeks. Bolkan, from South Salem High, was all-Pac-10 at Stanford.

• Defender Leonard Griffin is expected to return to the roster after being cut by the Columbus Crew. 'I'm seeing if I can get back going with the Timbers,' he says. He played in a preseason game last week. 'That was a good little tuneup, hopefully,' he says.

• The United Soccer Leagues First Division wants to expand from 11 teams to 16 by 2010, Chief Operating Officer Tim Holt says. The Austin (Texas) Axtex will join the league next year, and Holt says he wants more franchises west of the Mississippi River. He says candidates include Omaha, Neb.; Tulsa, Okla.; San Antonio; Tampa, Fla.; Phoenix; Boise, Idaho; Oklahoma City; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Birmingham, Ala.