Goalkeeper Jon Busch was about one week away from opening the 2010 MLS season with the Chicago Fire. Not long after, the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year found himself as the backup goalkeeper for a San Jose Earthquakes organization that has struggled in recent years.
Busch eventually worked his way into the Earthquakes' starting job over Joe Cannon. And as his former Fire team's postseason hopes have faded, San Jose's playoff situation continues to improve as the two teams meet up Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
"When I first got here, it was me getting to know the guys on the team [after] not spending a preseason with them," Busch said. "I got thrown into it from Day 1. It took some time for me to get comfortable with them and that sort of thing. But you could see the positives building after the first couple of weeks. There was some uncertainty. They had a tough two years prior to this, so there were some question marks. 'Would this be the same Earthquakes, or would they get it right this year?' "
The latter is proving to be the case for Busch, who was waived by the Fire in favor of Andrew Dykstra just before their March 27 opener against New York. On Wednesday, Chicago (6-10-8, 26 points) faces a San Jose team that has posted a 5-1-1 mark over its past seven games and is in the thick of the playoff hunt for one of four wild-card slots with a 11-7-6 record and 39 points.
"It's been a total team commitment to defending first and reducing goal-scoring chances," Busch said of the keys to this recent run. "Everybody is on the same page and has bought into that workmanlike mentality."
Another key has been the emergence of San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski, who was just voted MLS Player of the Week for his hat trick during the Quakes' 3-2 win over Toronto FC on Saturday.
"In my opinion he should be the MVP of the league -- not just based on how many goals he has , but how he can score timely goals," Busch said. "He sets the pace for us."
Defensively, Busch and Co. have posted four shutouts during their 5-1-1 stretch.
Another familiar former Fire player on the Quakes is defender Tim Ward, who has played both outside back positions. Ward and Busch had a scary moment during second-half stoppage time of their 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union. A Union shot ricocheted off of Ward, and Busch somehow reacted to save the shot and preserve the three points as the whistle blew shortly after.
"We had a good laugh about it," Busch said. "It somehow found my hands and not the back of the net, and that was a perfect example of us having a little luck, but doing everything to try and block shots during stoppage time to get the result."
This week's match will be Busch's first in-game action against his former Fire team. He was with the Quakes, but on the sidelines, during their 2-1 victory over Chicago on April 10.
Though the Fire's postseason hopes nearly are out the window, Busch knows this Chicago team should not be taken lightly, despite the Fire's current seven-match winless streak and four straight matches without a goal.
"If you look on paper, they can put a few different lineups on that field," Busch said. "Whether it's Brian [McBride], Collins [John], Patrick [Nyarko], the list goes on and on offensively. We just need to keep our shape defensively, stay organized and take chances when we get them, and we hope to continue that on Wednesday. Chicago's a good team."