The crowd that filled the lower bowl at Levi's Stadium rose to its feet as the referee signaled full time on the Quakes 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders back on August 2. A Yannick Djalo goal was enough to propel San Jose over the eventual 2014 Supporters' Shield winners and award the Heritage Cup to the home side. Fireworks from a display at nearby Great America filled the night sky with colorful light and deafening sound.
And in the Earthquakes goal stood goalkeeper Jon Busch, arms raised triumphantly as his defense worked flawlessly to collect its fifth clean sheet of the season. The win marked San Jose's second in a row -- a welcome streak following a dismal string of four defeats in five games. Perhaps the hard-fought victory over the Sounders would be a turning point for a team that had struggled through the first half of the year?
Unfortunately for the Quakes, the turn would be a full 180 degrees, and the team would not taste victory over the last 15 games of the season. Busch collected one clean sheet in that span -- a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at the last match played at Buck Shaw Stadium -- and recorded a career-low six wins as a season-long starter.
Not a good way to end the season for a 38-year old veteran goalkeeper that would be out of contract at the end of the year.
Busch joined the Earthquakes ahead of the 2010 season, a cast-off by the Chicago Fire as that club made room for promising youngster Sean Johnson. The 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year while with the Fire, Busch was second-string on the Quakes to local hero Joe Cannon. Definitely still to be counted among the league's best 'keepers, Busch stepped in for Cannon when the later was injured and led the Earthquakes down the stretch to the postseason.
In the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs, Busch came within a whisker of leading the team to the Final, allowing a free kick delivery from the Colorado Rapids to slip by him for the winning goal in a 1-0 nail-biter at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Despite the disappointing end to the Quakes playoff run, Busch earned the team's Defensive Player of the Year award and cemented his status as San Jose's #1. Cannon was soon the cast-off, joining MLS expansion side Vancouver ahead of the following season.
Busch added a Supporters' Shield to his resume in 2012, and in both 2013 and 2014 was a constant presence for the Quakes. Playing every single minute of the 2014 season -- 3060 in regulation and an undetermined number of stoppage time minutes -- Busch matched Cannon's club record for saves in a season with 137 and was again named the team's Defensive Player of the Year. The Earthquakes finished 2014 with a club-worst 6-16-12 record, but it could have been so much more worse if not for the heroics of Busch.
But the team missed the postseason in successive years, and the club brought in a new head coach, Dominic Kinnear, with new plans for the roster. Nobody -- save designated players Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garcia -- was a safe bet to be an Earthquake when the club opened up brand-new Avaya Stadium in 2015, not even reliable, dependable, hard-working Busch.
"He's one of the players that is in that category, like a lot of the players, where we are evaluating," said general manager John Doyle back at the end of October. "We have to make decisions in 3 or 4 weeks. Dominic wants to look and evaluate, so there's been no decision on bringing Jon back, or keeping Jon. That's where we are at."
And as of the start of December, that is still where Doyle and Kinnear are at. The Earthquakes will soon make an announcement as to which players will have their contract options retained and which players will have them declined. And for those out of contract, like Busch, news will come as to whether the Quakes will negotiate to keep them around for another season.
It is still very unclear in what direction Doyle and Kinnear will take the Earthquakes in 2015. As coach of the Houston Dynamo, Kinnear had a history of selecting tall, lanky goalkeepers -- 6'4" Pat Onstad from 2006 through 2010 and 6'4" Tally Hall in the seasons since -- and 2011 pick-up Generation Adidas goalkeeper David Bingham, at 6'2", is waiting in the wings.
Though he didn't make a single league appearance for San Jose in 2014, Bingham did display his bona fides against Seattle in a PK loss in the U.S. Open Cup and on-loan with Norwegian side Strommen IF this fall. Additionally, having graduated from Generation Adidas at the conclusion of the season, Bingham would need to be protected in the upcoming Expansion Draft for Orlando City SC and New York City FC. It is unlikely that the Quakes would place both Bingham and Busch on their 11-player protected list.
But it would be short-sighted to to bail on the 5'10" Busch because of a lack of height. Tallness helps one determine the weather up there, but it's experience that allows one to enhance one's physical attributes. There was, and there needs to continue to be, room for both 'keepers on the Earthquakes roster.
Among his club-record 137 saves this season was a spectacular effort against the Portland Timbers that was among the semifinalists for MLS Save of the Year. In that same game, Busch made a season-high 10 saves against a Timbers side that at home was on a nearly 90 minute offensive barrage. His 6 clean sheet, 4 for victories, was impressive given that the Earthquakes leaked 50 goals in 34 games (same as Supporters' Shield winning Seattle Sounders, incidentally).
If you look at Busch's body of work over the past five MLS seasons, he rates among the best goalkeepers in the league. No one else in MLS has started more games at 'keeper during that time than Busch, and his save percentage total is second only to U.S. men's national team World Cup veteran and Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
2010-2014 Statistics for MLS goalkeepers
Busch serves as a leader both on and off the field for the Earthquakes. Hang outside the team's training facility just to the north of Avaya Stadium, just before the rest of his teammates show up from practice, and you'll likely see Busch already at work. Stick around to the end, and Busch is often the guy closing the gate. No one can question Busch's commitment to staying at his mental and physical peak.
And when the goalkeeping gloves come off, Busch is dedicated to philanthropy, evident in the $29,000 he, along with the Earthquakes Community Fund, donated to the Navy SEAL Foundation. Following San Jose's game at Stanford Stadium back in June, Busch stuck around well after the final whistle to sign autographs and address fans that had pledged their support to the SEALs.
Busch's goalkeeping gaffes -- in 2014 numbering less than what can be counted on one hand -- are few and far between. He leads by example and has been the most dependable player short of Chris Wondolowski over the last four seasons. He clearly can still provide at the highest level. His importance to the club as a player, and perhaps upon retirement as a coach, cannot be undervalued.
The San Jose Earthquakes need Jon Busch in 2015.