SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The fact that Jon Busch led MLS in saves last season was a testament to his skill and ability to stay healthy.
It was also a condemnation of a San Jose Earthquakes defense that all too often relied on Busch to bail them out of dicey situations.
The Quakes may have plugged the holes in their backline over the winter. And they may have created an attack that’s steaming along right now. But that doesn’t mean Busch still can’t summon a game-changing save when the need arises.
WATCH: Busch paws away DeRo's bike kick
That’s exactly what he did in the 35th minute of San Jose’s wild-and-woolly 5-3 victory against D.C. United on Wednesday night. Even though the Quakes had scored three times in the space of 12 minutes to go ahead by two, United were hardly on their heels, and they were applying solid pressure when Maicon Santos flicked on a long throw-in from the right side of San Jose’s defensive third.
RECAP/MATCHCENTER: Red-hot Quakes cool off DC 5-3 in wild one
Dwayne De Rosario, having already struck a venomous goal from distance to put D.C. ahead in the eighth minute, lined up a stinging bicycle kick from 12 yards to the back post. A goal would have halved the visitors’ deficit and likely stolen the momentum back for the second half.
Instead, the Quakes got a huge boost when Busch climbed the ladder and used his right hand to guide the ball wide of his net.
“What a great save,” Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales told MLSsoccer.com. “I think that would have changed the game. They would’ve gotten back into it. It would have changed the momentum.”
With San Jose’s defenders spread out, Busch had a clear view of De Rosario, and that gave him an early inkling of what was in store.
“DeRo will shoot from anywhere, so you always expect the unexpected,” Busch said. “I was fortunate that I saw it early enough. I could see what he was trying to do, and luckily for me, it was close enough where I could get a hand on it.”
Perhaps the most underrated part of an already underrated play: Busch pushed the ball wide enough of the far post that United forward Chris Pontius couldn’t get his rebound attempt on frame, despite arriving first to the loose ball.
“He’s one of those goalkeepers that doesn’t ask for any fanfare, doesn’t want any real credit for what he does, but he does his job fantastically well,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “He’s a quietly confident – I shouldn’t say just ‘confident’ – very confident individual that knows he’s a very good goalkeeper, knows his place on the team and for me is, if not one of the best goalies the league’s seen, pretty close.”
At 35, Busch is the oldest member of the Quakes and ranks second only to Corrales in terms of seniority as a pro. With that in mind, he’s taken it upon himself to serve as the team’s designated Reality Checker.
Last month, Busch pointed out to media members that it was only April, and therefore too early to be discussing the implications of San Jose’s hot start. On Wednesday, he made sure to highlight the fact that the Quakes’ performance was hardly blemish-free – and that San Jose’s busy schedule doesn’t let up, continuing with Saturday's trip to Vancouver (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“We have to stay level-headed,” Busch said. “Yes, we won, but we’ve got a lot to work on after that game. We’ve got another big challenge ahead of us on Saturday – we’ve got to go into Vancouver and pick up some points there against a very disciplined and organized team. So there’s no time to dwell on this one.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.