Being able to adapt and face the new challenges ahead is an important overall skill. However, in sports, sometimes this skill is needed most. Defender Michael Burch ’22 at Brandeis had to make new adaptations throughout his entire career as he took on all the challenges that faced him. After three years of playing on the Brandeis men’s soccer team, Burch is prepared to graduate from Brandeis and move on to play one more season of soccer at Johns Hopkins University. Before getting to the present, we go back to where it all started.
“It all started in preschool when all my friends were playing soccer and I told my parents I didn’t want to do it, but because my friends were doing it, I felt left out. So that’s how I jumped into it,” said Burch.
Burch continued to play soccer throughout his life, even though it wasn’t necessarily his favorite sport. Throughout high school he mostly played the center attacking midfield position, which was different from what he played later in his career. He loved to compete, and this ultimately led him to his decision about where to go to college.
“I was doing all my visits and I was getting recruited by people and for me it really came down to the decision of D1 versus D3. I could have sat on a D1 bench for two years before I got a chance to play and I love the sport and I love competing so I would probably have been miserable there,” said Burch.
After much deliberation, Burch decided to go to Brandeis and in his freshman year he was extremely excited. The team had recently come off of great success, so Burch was ready to be a part of that success. At first, he was unsure about how he was going to be able to fit in with the team, but he quickly realized that this was not going to be an issue.
“As soon as I got to Brandeis the whole team was so accepting. I thought there was going to be a hierarchical ladder socially speaking, but everyone was just so accepting,” said Burch.
Unlike most freshmen, Burch got the opportunity to start right away for the team. He started every single game. “I played in every game and started every game, which was awesome. It was great for my confidence, and I think it really helped me gain experience that just helped me throughout my four years here,” said Burch. Even though it wasn’t necessarily normal, Burch embraced the role and instantly went into winning and competitive mode.
Burch remembers his first game very clearly. It was against Endicott College, and he recalled that it was a few of his former teammates’ debuts as well. “We won 2-0 and I had an assist on the first goal. So that definitely started the college career with a bang,” said Burch. It was a big moment in his young career and obviously this was a game to remember for multiple reasons. The team ended up winning 2-0 and was a great start for Burch.
The rest of the season was mostly up and down for the team. They finished with a final overall record of 7-9-2 and a 2-4-1 record in conference. However, Burch had one additional extremely memorable moment in his freshman year.
“It was one of our first UAA [University Athletic Association] games and it was against Emory who were ranked 10th in the country… That game was extremely competitive, and we eventually won it with 14 seconds left in overtime. I just remember everyone running on the field doing a dogpile. The feeling was electric,” said Burch.
Even though Burch had a strong overall first season on the soccer team, his first year academically was different. He found the transition to be very difficult to the courses and finding a balance between sports and academics. “When I got to college, the super short-term goal was to be good at soccer and so I mostly focused on soccer,” said Burch. As a result, his grades ended up suffering. However, as time progressed, he got used to it and later found a strong balance between the two which was especially important because he knew his future was not in soccer.
Entering his sophomore year, Burch had already begun to make big improvements. After spending time in the offseason playing with a semi-pro team, he began to make strides in his game offensively. “I think my main goal for that year was to be the best outside back in the conference,” said Burch.
Not only did he want to be great, but he also wanted the team to be a lot better in his sophomore year. As a second year, he pushed everyone around him to be better. This led to a significantly better team. The men’s soccer team finished 10-5 overall and 3-3-1 in conference games. Although the team performed well, they still remained on the very edge of making the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
Burch had mixed feelings about his sophomore year. Even though the team did better, he still believed that not only could the team have been better, but he as an individual could have been better. With his experience as a starter, he thought that this would have been a big year for him. “I think my fitness was better and my defending was better… I wanted to get better offensively, and I thought I did, but it just didn’t show up in games for me. So that was a little bit disappointing,” said Burch.
Then came the year of the pandemic. The team found it very difficult to remain connected and close throughout the time. To attempt to keep the team close, they did cooking competitions virtually to try and maintain morale. This was especially important considering most of the team was virtual to save a year of eligibility.
Going into his senior year, Burch believed that this was his second to last year. He was going into it thinking he had one more additional season at Brandeis. But he still was setting big goals. Burch wanted to make the NCAA tournament because he never had before. The team was close in his sophomore year but just missed it. As a two-year starter, Burch knew he had to step up and lead the way.
“We had 14 new freshmen, so socially I just wanted to make sure they were all comfortable and we could integrate them into the team well,” said Burch.
Even though he was doing his best to build the team up, they overall started a little slow. Early on someone on the team tested positive for COVID-19, which slowed down the team’s progress. This became an issue considering the team hadn’t played competitively for a year and a half. “We had a really tough start to the year because we had a really young team and we had almost no chemistry”, said Burch.
The slow start to the season led the team to once again miss the NCAA tournament. They finished 6-7-3 overall and 3-2-2 in conference games. However, Burch was very proud of how the team ended the season.
“We had some huge results. We beat three NCAA tournament teams at the end of the year”, said Burch.
One of the wins included beating Emory University in overtime on Oct. 29. It was a night game against a nationally ranked team. After Brandeis went up 1-0, they ended up conceding two goals to fall behind 1-2 with just under 15 minutes left to play. He felt like they were having a lot of trouble making chances and that there was a lot of doubt about their chances to win the game. However, a goal from senior Isaac Mukala ’22 tied the game up and sent the game to overtime.
“We were confident that we weren’t going to concede, it’s just a matter of scoring… Then I got the ball looked up and I was like holy shit there is nobody around me right now… Then our freshman Eli [Mones ’25], phenomenal player, and he made a run and was wide open and I passed it to him, and he tapped it in. It was freshman year all over again. Crazy celebrations and electric feeling, ” said Burch.
This game was one of the great games the team played to end the season. Burch’s assist in the game was his second of the season and third of his career. These assists were a part of a big change the Burch had to make during the season. After spending most of his Brandeis career bouncing around in positions, he finally settled into the center midfield position in his senior year. He had to make the move because the team needed him to due to injuries and strength at other positions. The role was extremely challenging, but he knew he had to make it work.
However, finally due to the consistency, he was able to get comfortable in the position and made the adjustments. This resulted in his first UAA team selection as he was awarded second-team All-UAA. Burch had overall mixed feelings about the selection. He felt like more of his teammates deserved to be awarded and he felt like he performed better than what was listed. However, he still found it nice to be recognized for what he had done on the field.
A few months later, Burch received notice that he was accepted into a program at Johns Hopkins. All of the sudden it hit him. He played his last season at Brandeis, and he didn’t even know it.
“Definitely really bittersweet. It would have been nice to know I was playing my last game for Brandeis. I think I would have taken a step back and enjoyed every little practice and every little game a little bit more,” said Burch.
Overall, Burch had a fantastic career at Brandeis on the men’s soccer team. He was a starter in every year he played and always played wherever the team needed him to be. Now he moves on to face new challenges. Although it is a new school and will definitely take some time to adjust, Burch is no stranger to adapting to what the situation gives.
“I am excited for my opportunity and I’m sad that I am leaving, but I am extremely grateful for the time I spent there and I’m extremely excited to compete for Hopkins next year”, said Burch.