It's now gone official. The Fire has surprisingly released goalkeeper Jon Busch - starter of every one of the Fire's league games in the last two years and the 2008 MLS goalkeeper of the year. Here's how it all went down.
After the Fire's friendly against Notre Dame got cancelled on Saturday morning, goalkeeper Jon Busch and the rest of the team stuck around for a brief workout. Eventually, most members of the Fire began to file out. But Busch - as he so often did during his three year tenure with the Fire - stayed after to get some more lifting in. While he was in the gym, head coach Carlos de los Cobos poked his head in on Busch's workout.
"Carlos popped in and said 'hey when you're done I need a second of your time,'" Busch said over the phone on Monday evening. "I told him no problem. We went to the players' lounge, where he again told me how well I've been playing and how important of a leader I am on this team and how just everything's going well for me. He then proceeded to tell me that he had made a decision to start [goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra] in New York [on Saturday]. [de los Cobos] said that he thought Dykstra has potential and that he wanted to give him the game." But Busch being relegated to the bench is nowhere near the end of this story. Busch, who said he didn't see "any evidence of anything coming about," stomached de los Cobos's surprising revelation as best he could. He told the Fire's head coach that he would support Dykstra and continue to work hard for the Fire - where he wanted to stay. Their meeting ended. Busch went home.
After enjoying a pleasant day with his wife on Sunday, Busch received a text message from Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas in the early evening requesting that the two meet for "a drink and a conversation."
"We went around the corner and met. He reiterated the same conversation that Carlos had had with me on Saturday in that he sees Andrew with potential and he wants to give him a go at it," said Busch. "I told Frank, 'look I understand. I'm disappointed, I think I did everything right but I'm here for the Chicago Fire and I will support Andrew and give him any advice that I can to help prepare him for New York.' I made it a point to tell Frank that I did not want to be traded away. I didn't want to go anywhere. I wanted to stay and fight for my position and I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Chicago Fire. Frank then turned around and said that he has to either trade me or waive me."
At this point, Busch had gone from starting goalkeeper on one of the top teams in MLS to being told that he would no longer be a member of the club. This all took place in a span of 36 hours. But why? How does a team justify cutting its starting goalkeeper - and one of its strongest leaders - from the squad a mere 5 days before the season opener? How does it justify leaving the team with two goalies who have a combined zero appearances (that's right, ZERO) in league play? What's the rationale there?
It wasn't a dip in Busch's form.
"I was playing very well," Busch said. "Carlos [de los Cobos] was telling me how well I was playing and telling me I was his number one the whole preseason. Everything was great. I played in four [friendly's and got] three clean sheets. Physically, mentally, everything felt sharp."
It wasn't problems between Busch and the coaching staff.
"Carlos and I got on very well and the new goalkeeper coach [Aron Hyde] was fantastic."
And it certainly wasn't Busch's preference.
"I'm disappointed that I'm not going to be playing here any longer," said Busch. "I took great pride and pleasure and privilege in being the Chicago Fire goalkeeper. I'm definitely disappointed that I'm not going to be here any longer."
So what exactly was the reasoning behind the Fire's decision to release Busch? That, for now, remains a mystery.
"[Klopas] just told me that this is what he has to do and that was it."
It could be that the Fire thought Dykstra had grown to be a better goalkeeper than Busch. But if that was the case, why lead the 33-year-old veteran on by telling him throughout the preseason that he was the number one? To me, it sounds like there's a lot more to this move than a simple discrepancy in talent.
Speculation has already arisen that Busch's contract, which paid him $135,000 last year, played a role in the decision. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed on Saturday meant that Busch's money would be guaranteed. It's possible that the Fire saw that and determined Busch wasn't worth the money. As of this moment though, that remains speculation.
One thing that is for certain is Busch's gratitude to the fans of the Fire. Busch always enjoyed great support from the fans, who would routinely chant his name after the keeper would make a solid play.
"I loved being here," said Busch. "I'm going to tell you right now I'm going to get emotional [about this] but there are no better fans in the league [than in Chicago]. For three years those guys have been awesome. They cheered my name. To do what they do, I'd just like to thank those guys because those guys were absolutely amazing for the almost four years I've been here. I played the game the way I played the game for those guys and ladies and I thank them for the support they gave me. I'm very disappointed I won't be able to run out in a few weeks in front of them for what would've been my fourth year here. It just wasn't meant to be... wasn't in the cards."
Now Busch is left without a team and with less than a week to go before the season kicks off. He said that he would like to remain in MLS, but he acknowledges that that will be difficult given the fact that most clubs have their goalkeeper situation sorted out at this point in the year.
"My agent has been talking to everybody today," Busch said. "I think financially to stay in the MLS I'm going to have to take a big hit like I did when I first came here to Chicago. We'll cross that bridge when it happens but right now we're looking at any and all options. From MLS, to USL, to Europe, to whatever, we're looking at all possibilities. Obviously, I would love to stay in the MLS. I think I deserve to stay in the MLS - I was playing very well in preseason - but we'll see what unfolds. Right now there's not really any teams that are jumping at the bit to make a change at this point before the season so I'm definitely in a very tough predicament."
So, the Fire will head into 2010 with Andrew Dykstra and Sean Johnson as their two goalkeepers. Jon Busch is, quite obviously, out of the equation.
"I didn't even see this coming," Busch said. "There was no buildup to it; there was no friction between Carlos and me, nothing that ever lead to a thought of this [happening]. This completely blindsided me. My only concern was preparing for New York... Now we're one week away and boom I get this bombshell dropped on me."
Safe to say Jon wasn't the only one blindsided by this bombshell.