Sometimes things just don't go your way. Just ask San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch, who back on May 17 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle watched a miracle shot from Obafemi Martins arc over his head and into the net for the only goal in a Sounders victory over the Quakes. Busch stood dumbfounded, seemingly searching for words that never made it to his open mouth.
Just over two-and-a-half months later, Busch was again between the posts, facing the high-flying Sounders, this time in front of an elevated home crowd at newly opened Levi's Stadium. It was the ‘keeper's turn to play hero, and with an eight save performance against the first place team in the West, Busch earned a 1-0 clean sheet victory.
"They came right at us, and we dealt with the attack and weathered the storm," said Busch. "It was a fun game to play."
Deemed the man of the match by television broadcaster NBC Sports, Busch was beckoned to the networks on-field desk, where he gamely sat under the bright studio lights that glared in his eyes. He answered his hosts' questions, accepting their accolades begrudgingly, before retreating under the mammoth stadium to the team's locker room. There, scrawled on the whiteboard, was a kangaroo court summons, the single count: Weak Ass Interview.
Busch has always preferred to let his play on the pitch do the talking. The day before the Seattle game, as a throng of reporters stalked him on the perfectly groomed Levi's Stadium field, Busch quipped that they didn't need him. He feinted walking off the field, remarking that they could simply go and write their own quotes in his name, before turning around to face the cameras. This was not Busch's favorite part of the day.
Since his arrival in San Jose in 2010, following eight seasons with first Columbus Crew and then Chicago Fire, Busch had trained as hard as anyone who has ever pulled on an Earthquakes jersey. Often first to the practice field, and equally likely to be the last one to leave, the 37-year old gives his all every day as if it could be the last of his distinguished MLS career.
"Buschy is a guy you can count on," said defender Jason Hernandez, his teammate the last five seasons. "That has been the story of his career. He works tremendously hard, and when he is called upon, he answers that call."
Busch spent the first five years out of college as a professional in the A-League, the precursor to today's USL Pro third division competition, toiling away in relative obscurity until getting his MLS opportunity with the Crew in 2002. Later on in Chicago, he flourished, and in 2008 he was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. When promising youngster Sean Johnson joined the Fire, it marked the beginning of the end of his Windy City stay, and by 2010 he was an insurance pick-up by the Quakes to serve as incumbent ‘keeper Joe Cannon's backup.
"He is a consummate professional," said head coach Mark Watson, who joined the Quakes in an assistant's role at the same time Busch arrived in San Jose. "He tends to make things look quite easy. He's always in the right spot at the right time."
It wasn't long before Busch supplanted Cannon as the starting ‘keeper - one former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year making way for another - and at the tail end of the 2010 season, the job was his. No longer the starter, Cannon continued his career with Vancouver for parts of three seasons, before this year returning to San Jose as the team's radio broadcast analyst.
"I'm just doing my job" - a refrain that Busch has repeated countless times, after important games or following the most basic of training sessions. It is not that Busch is simply grateful to be where he is, it is more that he understands his responsibilities and puts his head down to get the job done.
"He's probably one of the more underrated guys around," said Hernandez. "He has been huge for us. When the ball is up for grabs, you can count on him coming out of nowhere and making the save."
That discipline and service to his team are hallmarks of his personality. Befittingly, Busch has quietly gone about honoring another group of professionals that share his philosophy, some real heroes, the Navy SEALs.
Back in 2012, after learning of a tragic event that took the lives of many SEAL team members, soldiers whose identities are not made public due to the sensitive nature of their missions, Busch dedicated himself to helping the families of those fallen servicemen through his Saves for SEALs program. Each season since, Busch has used the California Clasico match at Stanford University as a rallying point for his fundraising efforts. The 2014 campaign is still running, though with one week left, it is short of reaching its goal.
This year's LA Galaxy match at Stanford also marked a milestone of sorts for Busch as he became the oldest player at 37 years and 314 days to ever take the field for the Earthquakes. He is second on the list in virtually every goalkeeping statistical category for San Jose, behind only Cannon, though his work ethic may allow him to play for multiple more seasons and reach number one.
Against the Sounders, Busch recorded his fifth clean sheet of the season, his 35th with San Jose, and collected the third most points in the weekly Castrol player rating index. He was roundly applauded for his All-Star level performance.
"Jon was great again," said Watson. "We were under a lot of pressure, especially in the last ten minutes, and he continually came up big for us. Another great performance from Buschy."
The Earthquakes will need Busch to be at his best over the last 15 games of the season, as poor results earlier in the year have left the team in quite a hole. Chalked up more as the fault of a struggling offense - the defense is the fourth stingiest in all of MLS, allowing only 20 goals in 19 games - San Jose's failure to collect enough points to enter the conference's top five is still the responsibility of the entire team. And recent results, a three-game unbeaten streak, may very well signal a promising turnaround.
"Slow down," said Busch. "We're playing better and getting results, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of ground to cover to get back into the playoff hunt. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
That work paid off against the Sounders, and for the Earthquakes will hopefully pay off this week at the LA Galaxy. Every three points is another step toward qualifying for the postseason. Busch knows it, his teammates know it, and the coaches know it. Heads collectively down, not in shame, but in determination. Every week will be a playoff game for the Quakes, but with Busch in goal, they won't be counted out.
With preparation and hard work, things can go your way after all.