After conjuring success in Montreal, Impact 'keeper Evan Bush reflects upon playoff return to Ohio home

MONTREAL—Evan Bush’s adulthood began taking shape in 2011.

He’d gotten engaged to future wife Colleen, whom he would marry after the soccer season. His goalkeeping career was picking up steam. The previous season, he’d played 25 games for Crystal Palace Baltimore and – unbeknownst to him – his job and his life had been changed forever on Aug. 11, 2010, when Baltimore drew 0-0 at then-second division Montreal Impact.

Bush stopped all 13 of Montreal’s shots on target.

“Call him Harry Potter, call him whatever you want, he really was the key player on the field,” says Marc Dos Santos, Montreal’s head coach at the time.

On March 11, 2011, six days after Bush's 25th birthday, he signed for Montreal (with a quill, presumably).

Bush was tabbed to be the Impact’s No. 2 ‘keeper, as marquee offseason signing Bill Gaudette would be replacing the newly retired Matt Jordan, now the general manager and vice-president at Houston Dynamo.

Gaudette went down with an ankle injury two months into the season. Bush won the 2011 NASL Golden Glove, an award given to the goalkeeper with the best goals against average each season (Bush posted a .757 mark in 19 games).

On Oct. 21, 2011, Bush made the jump to MLS expansion side Montreal Impact, just one of four players from that final NASL roster to cross the league divide.

But it was back to square one.

Bush wasn’t an MLS-proven goalkeeper: After his college career at the University of Akron, he had only trials at D.C. United and Seattle Sounders FC before joining his hometown club, Cleveland City Stars, for one USSF-D2 season in 2009.

Expecting more from that season in Montreal, Bush settled for third in the pecking order, behind now-LA Galaxy 'keeper Donovan Ricketts and Greg Sutton.

Bush made his MLS debut on June 30, 2012, in a 3-0 defeat at D.C. United. A month later, he was Montreal’s man of the match in a penalty-kick loss to French giants Olympique Lyonnais.

Sutton retired at the end of 2012, securing Bush a deserved promotion to the No. 2 spot. He backed Troy Perkins, who’d landed in Montreal from Portland midway through the 2012 season in exchange for Ricketts.

Bush again worked his way into the the No. 1 job, this time late in 2014, when last-placed Montreal began looking ahead to the next season. Perkins’ offseason departure opened the door for Bush to switch from jersey No. 30 to No. 1 in 2015, a sign that he’d finally arrived.

“I was reading an article about the Red Bulls and about how they have this chip on their shoulder,” says Bush, in between two bites of fruit before an Impact training session. “I think back to the first year that Jesse [Marsch, then head coach] was here, and when I signed with the team, they put me as the third goalkeeper. I saw the chip on my shoulder because of that. And I respect Jesse. I think he’s done a great job. But I can thank him a bit for putting that chip on my shoulder.”

The journey proved tough, but as Bush leads Montreal into Sunday's home leg of their Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Columbus Crew SC (5 pm ET; ESPN in US, TSN1 in Canada), he can see the silver lining: Not playing regularly allows you to reflect on your livelihood, on your game, on your position, he said.

Admittedly, Bush would be tossed in where needed for years after he’d started playing soccer – as a striker or midfielder, never in the backline. Yet using his hands came naturally: Bush earned an All-Ohio honorable mention in basketball before any state-level recognition in soccer.

He credits basketball with benefiting his eye-hand coordination, athleticism, shiftiness, quickness and explosiveness.

“The only thing that basketball had a negative effect on was maybe my recruiting out of high school," Bush says. "I ended up going to a great college soccer program anyway [Akron], but that was the only Division I soccer program that took notice of me. In the winter is when all the showcase tournaments go on for the high school kids, and I was playing basketball, so I missed out on all those with my club team.”

Years later, the former swingman picked up the Golden Glove award for Best Goalkeeper in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League, following the Impact's unexpected run to the championship game.

That award filled Youssef Dahha, the likable and skilled Montreal Impact goalkeeper coach, with pride. Dahha and “Bushie” enjoy a rewarding working relationship based on mutual respect. They certainly don’t agree on everything. Different “cultural ideas” about how the position should be played, Bush says, lead to healthy debates; Belgium-born Dahha is of Moroccan heritage.

The discussions, the reflection, the intellectualizing of the position are part of the appeal, according to Bush.

“The smallest details are very important,” Bush says. “You can really get into those details. You ask my wife, and she’ll say that I’ve got a little bit of OCD, things like that, even certain things like organization around the house. Maybe it’s a little bit of that coming out of me.”

It’s no surprise that Bush envisions a coaching career when all is said and done. Not only is he a student of the game, but also one with a wealth of relevant experience. Though Bush hasn’t seen many different locker rooms, he’s worked under six coaches in five years (Dos Santos, Nick De Santis, Marsch, Marco Schällibaum, Frank Klopas and Mauro Biello).

He can tell what works and what doesn’t.

At 29, Bush joins Hassoun Camara as the Impact's longest-serving players, each at five seasons of service. His evolution, in a way, followed the team’s. Where Montreal started out their MLS existence with a goalkeeper renowned for his exploits on his line and defenders more comfortable shifting play forward quickly, Bush strived to become more competent with the ball at his feet.

“The ability to play with your feet, now, is integral to what you do as a team – not only coming off your line but building out of the back,” Bush says. “When fans see, in this league, the guys making the big saves, see a guy like Ricketts make a save, sprawling to the top corner, guys that aren’t necessarily great with their feet but making huge saves, they don’t understand that the team’s at a deficit because they can’t play out of the back."

"They can’t play with their feet. Looking around the league, that’s one of the biggest improvements I think I’ve made in the four or five years that I’ve been here.”

The path to this point in the playoffs was peppered with mishaps, like an 82nd-minute home defeat to New York City FC that dumped them to ninth of 10 teams in the East; they eventually rose to third. But Bush has also pulled off some magical, even wizardly saves.

Sunday’s matchup against Crew SC will mark a return for the Ohio resident. It remains home – a 2 1/2-hour drive from Concord Township, anyway. Bush speaks of his pride for the Cleveland area, where there’s “no bull** with people.”

Overthinking the homecoming has been detrimental. Bush has already defended Montreal’s net three times in Columbus, his only victory coming earlier this season, when he detached himself from the emotional tie.

“In order to have a good game and enjoy the moments after the game with my family, you have to make it just like any other game,” Bush says. “I think my family and friends understand that now. I don’t think that, this time, I’m going to try to sort out any tickets or anything. I’ll say, ‘You’re all on your own.’

"Regular-season games are one thing. I’ll help them out. But with playoff games, thinking that there’ll probably be a limit on tickets anyways, I don’t want to do all that hassle and have other things to think about other than the actual game.”

Both of Colleen and Evan Bush’s families still live in Ohio, away from their grandkids. The couple twice became parents in Montreal – chatty Isabella is 2 years old, and fussy Canaan is 10 weeks old. The Bushes will likely move back to the States after Evan is done playing, for proximity.

But Bush will always feel a special love for the city in which he currently lives. Montreal is where he found progress. Found prosperity. Found himself.