Given the copious amount of shots that Jon Busch has been facing from match to match — and the scant number of points in the table that have resulted from the ensuing saves — perhaps the only real surprise about the San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper’s outbursts last Saturday is that it took so long for him to blow his top.
The Quakes suffered a triple-whammy just after the hour mark in their match against Real Salt Lake: a dubious penalty awarded against San Jose defender Bobby Burling; a goal from the spot by the man who drew the foul despite minimal contact, RSL forward Álvaro Saborío; and a red card against Burling, the Quakes’ last available center back.
RSL went on to pound home three more goals to complete a 4-0 victory, and while the whole Quakes team was disturbed by the outcome, Busch’s reaction was the most vehement.
Just a couple of minutes after RSL’s initial goal, Busch was caught on camera shouting an expletive and making a rude hand gesture. After the game, he also got into a discussion with RSL coach Jason Kreis, which left the latter agitatedly trying to chase the former down the locker-room tunnel.
The hotly debated call by referee David Gantar might have been the spark, but Busch said the genesis of his outburst also lies partially in San Jose’s current 0-3-5 streak, the latest act in an up-and-down season.
“We’re right there, but we’re not taking that last little step forward,” Busch said. “After 20 games of that, it does get a little frustrating. It takes a lot to get me fired up. I can handle a lot. But after a while, you can only handle so much. Maybe it was a culmination. The pot finally boiled a little bit.”
Busch made clear Tuesday that he wasn’t responding to Gantar, saying that after he was warned for taking too much time on his first goal kick of the evening.
“I knew there was no sense in me talking to the ref that night," he said, "because nothing good’s going to come out of it.”
Instead, the epithet and extended finger were aimed directly at RSL’s leading scorer.
“It was for Saborío,” Busch admitted. “For cheating. Plain and simple. I’m not going to run from it. It was for him. Was it right? No. Was it one of those situations in a split-second that you get heated, you get frustrated? Yeah.”
The four goals played havoc with Busch’s goals-against average, driving it up to 1.29 from 1.15. That, in turn, pushed him down to 13th among goalkeepers with at least 800 minutes’ worth of playing time this year.
Yet without Busch’s work, especially over the last month, the Quakes would undoubtedly be in even worse shape than they are, lying seventh in the Western Conference standings, two points out of a playoff spot and tied for 12th with Houston in terms of points per match (1.14).
Busch has made 80 saves this year, second only to Toronto FC’s Stefan Frei. And even with Saturday’s outcome, Busch is still third among qualifying goalkeepers with a 74.8 save percentage, trailing only the Galaxy’s duo of Donovan Ricketts (80.5) and Josh Saunders (75.0).
“Jon’s been outstanding this year,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “I thought he was going to the All-Star Game, for sure. I couldn’t believe it when he didn’t get the call for that. But that just makes him work a little harder, which is always good.”
Busch’s reactions on Saturday stood out all the more starkly because of how well he’s been able to keep his emotions in check even as San Jose’s battered backline has afforded teams a chance to take target practice at times this year.
When Busch made a sprawling reaction save in the 43rd minute, stoning Fabián Espíndola after a bad turnover from Nana Attakora at the top of his own penalty box, he immediately popped up and charged over to have a conversation with Attakora, who was making his Quakes debut.
Instead of dressing the 22-year-old down, however, Busch made sure to pick him up, telling him not to worry about the mistake.
“When I was younger, in the A-League and then my first couple years in Columbus, after I made that save I probably would have gone out there and screamed at him, hoot and hollered up and down,” Busch said. “But that wouldn’t have been good for him, and that wouldn’t have put him and I in a good situation. ... A couple of games from now, he’s probably going to save my back.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes