Jon Busch knows a thing or two about goalkeeping. And he is the first to admit that he’s got a fair bit of experience.
“You know, I played for about 100 years.”
He tells me this, and I reply, “We’ll fact check that.”
Jon retorts “OK, maybe 99”.
The 46-year-old Busch has played or coached goalkeeping since he was 10 years old, so the math doesn’t quite add up to 100 years. Still, through a career that includes time in the A League (the forerunner to the modern USL), three MLS teams, and one NASL team, Busch has carved out an incredible life in soccer.
With Chicago Fire, he was named the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. In 2009, he became the only GK in Fire history to play every minute of every game. In his time in MLS, he racked up some impressive career stats: he is currently fourth all-time in MLS history in regular-season appearances (309); fourth in minutes (27,725); third in shots faced (1,577); fourth in saves (1,151); fifth in wins (113); and fourth in shutouts (83).
His clubs have finished with an impressive trophy case, too. In MLS his club finished top of the MLS table twice: his 2004 Columbus Crew team, and his 2012 San Jose Earthquakes side.* In the old A-League, Busch won it all with the Hershey Wildcats in 2001. His head coach was Bob Lilley.
After two post-MLS seasons with Indy Eleven, then of the NASL, Busch retired in 2018. He then set his mind to his second career: coaching. He most recently for youth clubs Indiana Fire and Tampa Bay United, as an NCAA GK coach for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and just returned from a stint in the Scottish Premier League, coaching for Hibernian.
“I’ve always coached I think since my early early days,” Jon tells PSN. “I coached while I was playing for years. You know, part of it was out of necessity in the early days because you didn’t get paid anything. So you got paid very little so you needed extra money.”
“But I love goalkeeping. I love every facet of goalkeeping. And so, I always knew I was going to do it.”
It speaks extremely highly of Busch that in just a short window, his past coaches and teammates have repeatedly tapped him to coach on their teams. It was former Chicago Fire teammate Sean Maloney that brought Busch to Hibernian for the 2021-2022 season. Jon tells us, “You know, I went to Scotland when Sean Maloney brought me there. I was at Bernie, unfortunately a short amount of time, but it was fantastic.” Maloney was sacked at Hibs in April of 2022 after a bad run of form for the team, bringing Busch back to the US.
Hibernians loss would be Pittsburgh’s gain. Hounds coach Bob Lilley had stayed in touch with Busch for years, and when he became available, the Hounds coach jumped at the chance.
“Bob and I have talked the last few years about possibly coming here and then when I came back from Scotland it just was the right timing and the right next step for me,” Busch says.
Busch was excited to work with Lilley, whose reputation precedes him far and wide.
“Why Pittsburgh? Because of Bob. He’s a true winner. I played for him, so I know it his standards are very, very high. You know, I’m still a young coach at this level. So I want to I want to learn. I want to grow. I knew that Bob would push me, just like he did as a player. So for me, it was a no brainer.”
Busch is new to town – he doesn’t quite have a favorite restaurant or activity, and he admits that he’s spent almost all his time going from his apartment to Highmark Stadium to the new, gleaming training facility at AHN Montour. On his free time, he really likes hiking. Like a lot of Pittsburghers in early spring, though, he’s waiting for the temperatures to rise a little before fully committing. “You got great trails around here. One of the days I went and just walked around the city just to get used to the city. It looks like an awesome city. I can’t wait for the nice weather to come so I can explore a bit more.”
As thrilled as Jon is to work with a winner like Bob, he’s also pumped about the 2023 Pittsburgh Riverhounds and their prospects for success. “I’m excited to be here. The team has a good hard working group. Great bunch of boys. Our ultimate goal is to win a championship. That’s always been Bob’s focus. I want to win championships. Just like it was a player, I want to win championships as a coach now.”
Jon is specifically excited to work with the Riverhounds starting GK, Jahmali Waite, who will be away for the home opener with the Jamaican National Team, but played in net for the Hounds the past two weeks. Pittsburgh earned a hard-fought draw against Birmingham Legion in the season opener and then picked up a 3-1 win over Memphis last week.
Busch tells us “(Jahmali) had a good breakout season. You know, let’s start there. He’s a good athlete. He’s got good hands. He can play with his feet. He’s got a huge upside huge potential.” To get him to that next level as a keeper – the level that Busch was at in his playing days, there’s just one notable thing Jahmali needs, according to Busch. “We need to find consistency from one game to the other for him. You know, that’s the difference when when you kind of take that step. To become ‘the guy’ as a goalkeeper. That’s what Jahmali and I have talked about this season.”
Busch may have played a hand in helping Jahmali to become ‘the guy’ for Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz will play Mexico in Stadio Azteca on Sunday, March 26 in a Concacaf Nations League clash. With first string GK Andre Blake out with a groin strain, it seems as though Waite is in competition to take the spot between the pipes with Kemar Foster, a 30 year-old net-minder currently playing for Waterhouse FC in the Jamaican league.
As he’s pushing Waite, he’s pushing the other players. Busch’s drive to win and his enthusiasm for soccer seem to be a perfect fit with the culture of excellence at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The drive that made Jon Busch one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history is still what drives him as a coach, and makes him want to help push these 2023 Riverhounds to their very best.
“I want to get us to the highest level I can as a coach. Just like when I was a player.”
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* We would call this ‘Supporters Shield’, except that the Shield wasn’t invented until 2010, so when he ‘won’ it in 2004, his team simply got the highest seed in MLS Cup. The Crew were knocked out in the Conference Semi finals by New England in matches held over two legs.