Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch laughed when asked, jokingly, if he’s going to offer a $1,000 reward to the other members of San Jose’s starting XI if they record a victory over the Chicago Fire – Busch’s former team – on Wednesday.
“I don’t have any money like that,” Busch said.
Besides, to get his point across, Busch doesn’t have to do anything more elaborate than to simply print out a copy of the MLS standings and slip them under the door of the Fire’s locker room to get the attention of Chicago technical director Frank Klopas and first-year coach Carlos de los Cobos.
With 39 points and six matches remaining, the Quakes are on the verge of their first playoff spot since being reborn in 2008. After dumping Busch just prior to the start of the season in favor of inexperienced Andrew Dykstra, who subsequently fumbled the job away, the Fire are in grave danger of missing the postseason for only the second time in their 13 seasons of existence.
Busch told MLSsoccer.com on Monday that he has “no ill will” toward his former teammates and fans. But he also didn’t back down from his comments of two weeks ago, when took direct aim at Klopas and de los Cobos: “At the end of the day, they know they made a mistake.”
[inline_node:310844]“I’m old enough to know that the only thing that matters is the result,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter who it’s against. I think maybe when I was younger, especially the first time I went to Columbus, it was tough for me. But now, it just is what it is.
"It’s just another game and for us. If we get our three points, we’re one step closer to the playoffs, and that’s all we’re concerned about. There’s no old grudges.”
Of course, Busch can afford to be magnanimous at this point; after all, he’s wound up in position to start on a third consecutive playoff team. With Joe Cannon breaking his ankle just after taking the starting job back from Busch last month, the Quakes’ chances of making it to the postseason – and out of the first round – are going to depend on the 34-year-old Queens, N.Y., native.
Busch was in net as the Fire reached the Eastern Conference finals in each of the last two seasons. Chicago were ousted last year only after eventual champion Real Salt Lake pulled out a victory on penalty kicks.
That’s much more recent playoff experience than most of the Quakes have, but general manager John Doyle wasn’t hoping for this outcome when he signed Busch in the first week of the season.
“That wasn’t the plan,” Doyle said. “The plan was to have cover for Joe and to push Joe – Joe was No. 1 at the time – and to have competition between the two. But then, always in the back of your mind, you say, ‘What happens if one of the two goalies get injured?’ Whoever’s backing up who, you want to have a guy who’s been to the playoffs, who has the experience. For us, it wasn’t something we could pass up.”
It’s paid off. In the six matches since Cannon underwent what could be season-ending surgery, Busch has allowed five goals and recorded a 4-1-1 record. All four victories have been by a lone goal, including 1-0 decisions against Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
“The leadership [Busch] brings, it’s unbelievable,” Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski said after Busch made five key stops against the Union. “He makes saves and he doesn’t give up rebounds.
"Jon had a couple of rockets at him that he held with guys on the doorstep. Any rebound, and that’s a goal. It’s something that gets overlooked sometimes. People just see the saves, and he’s doing extra.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . On Twitter: @sjquakes.