A New York Soccer Story: Jon Busch



downloadNew York is in Jon Busch‘s blood. His parents were born and reared in the city, and the hometown on his birth certificate reads Queens. His time in the city was cut short, though.

With his father’s work as a Lutheran pastor taking the family to Virginia, Pennsylvania and finally to Albany, Busch’s most lasting memories of Queens are of the local bakery.

“My parents lived in New York all their lives, but we got outta there when I think I was about three,” Busch said. “I remember bits and pieces of it. We still talk about the bakery. The crumb cake is still very fresh in my mind.”

One of the best goalkeepers in the history of Major League Soccer, Busch’s introduction to soccer came in Virginia when his older brother needed a body in net.

“We built a goal in the backyard and he needed someone to shoot on so he just started throwing me in the goal,” he said. “For some reason I liked having balls hit at me. Maybe I was already crazy at seven or eight years old. I just enjoyed being a goalkeeper and that was the start of it.”

Busch wasn’t going to let anyone stop him from pursuing his love of goalkeeping. At every stage of his career, the 5-foot-10-inch keeper encountered doubters. Even at 40, he still harnesses past skepticism for motivation as Indy Eleven‘s starter in the North American Soccer League.

“Every year was the same story,” he said. “They said I wasn’t big enough, and that became the one thing that pushed me even harder. I always had this mental checklist in my head of ‘oh, this guy said this or this coach said that.’ I hear you. When I prove you wrong, I’m gonna check you off my list and move on to the next guy. That’s always been a part of my inner drive. I love everything about the goalkeeping position, but I also love making people eat their words. That’s always fun.”

Busch’s family moved to upstate New York the summer before his sophomore year of high school. His years at Guilderland High School in Albany were in the heyday of high-school soccer.

“The landscape of youth soccer has changed so much these days. Back then you got recruited through high school for the national team. High-school soccer was really big back then,” he said. “I was on the second best team in that area. The first team was Shenendehowa, where Miles Joseph and Damian Silvera were playing. Guilderland was their rival. It was always very competitive. We always had some intense games. It was a fun time for me, living up there and enjoying my soccer.”

By the time he finished his high-school career, Busch was one of the top 25 recruits in the country and had been a regular with the United States U-17 team. Just as he was set to commit to the University of Virginia under the current U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, a shakeup on the school’s coaching staff set him on different path.

“I took a visit and totally loved UVA,” he said. “At some point before I signed anything they switched goalkeeper coaches. Back then we didn’t have the internet, so you couldn’t look a guy up and see his résumé. I asked Bruce for a little more time to look into this new goalkeeper coach and he basically said ‘nah, you’ve got no more time.’ Me not knowing any better, being a silly high-school kid, I said OK I’m going to go look at other schools then.”

Fortunately, Busch didn’t have to wait long before he got an invite from UNC-Charlotte, an offer he was happy to accept to escape from Albany’s harsh winter.

Despite having never heard of the school before the visit, Busch left convinced it was the right fit. Factoring heavily into his decision was Charlotte’s recent hire of goalkeeper coach Eric Vaughter, who he credits as a major reason he’s had such a long career.

Busch deferred to Vaughter so much that he allowed the coach to dictate his path into the professional ranks. Rather than pushing for a roster spot in Major League Soccer after leading Charlotte to a Final Four appearance in his senior season, Busch went to the A-League to gain experience with the Carolina Dynamo and Hampton Road Warriors, while also participating in MLS preseason camps.

“He saw the big picture and I didn’t,” Busch said. “Thank God I listened to him and I’m eternally grateful for him. He knew if I went into MLS straight away, not having reserve games and all that, that I wouldn’t be playing and developing. I’d be training and maybe not even sitting on the bench. His thought was let’s get an opportunity to play from the beginning. I needed games to get to the next step and I wouldn’t have gotten that in MLS.”

The patience paid off for Busch with the Columbus Crew in 2004 as he helped the team capture the Supporters Shield. His ascension in MLS earned him a call up to the national team for a friendly. Busch recorded a shutout in that match, but it ended up being his only appearance on the international stage after two knee injuries in Columbus.

“Those were really tough times, especially the second year when you’ve done all the rehab, you’ve gotten back and you’re feeling good,” he said. “Like I’ve always done, I just put my head down and I just started grinding. I knew I was going to be able to do the physical work. It was more about doing the mental work. Can I push myself to that level again? It wasn’t easy. There were days when I’d come home and be miserable and my wife would always yell at me to shake me out of it. We got through it together.”

Jon Busch as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes. Image, Getty Images

Jon Busch as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes. Photograph by Getty Images

Busch landed on his feet with the Chicago Fire for three seasons before making his way to the San Jose Earthquakes. With the Earthquakes, he claimed his second Supporters Shield and set a single-season record with 138 saves. A return to Chicago in 2015 ended disastrously as the team finished last and Bush was left out of contract.

Incoming Indy Eleven Coach Tim Hankinson called in early 2016 with a proposal for Busch to continue his playing career while also serving as goalkeeping coach and scout. The intriguing offer and positive reviews on Indy he’d heard from his former Earthquakes teammate Brad Ring were enough to convince Busch it was time to put MLS behind him.

Busch has an outstanding debut season for Indy, shepherding the team the Spring Season title and falling a penalty-kick shootout short of a postseason title in a loss to the New York Cosmos in Busch’s native Queens.

After posting 11 shutouts and a 0.93 goals against average for Indy, Busch is in no hurry to call it quits. The challenge of coaching has re-energized him after a 20-year career and he’s even contemplating a technical director position someday. He’s not sure he’s ready, however, to trade in his sweats for a front-office job.

“The only issue I have with becoming a technical director is I don’t know if not being on the field every day would stoke the fire for me,” he said. “There’s something to be said about being out there every day kicking balls at goalkeepers. That just makes me happy.”