The Chicago Fire are in their final week of preseason preparation, but the team's Saturday opener will not include goalkeeper Jon Busch.
The Fire waived the 2008 MLS goalkeeper of the year on Monday. He was credited last season with keeping his team's defense together despite numerous injuries to the back line throughout the 2009 campaign.
At this stage, new Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos will be going with second-year player Andrew Dykstra when Chicago hits the road to take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN).
According to Busch, everything leading up to the Fire's 2010 opener was leaning toward his favor, which was to be expected since he has played in every minute of every game for Chicago for the past two seasons.
"Everything was going great," Busch said. "I had a good seven weeks of preseason, Carlos was saying how well I was playing and how sharp I looked, telling me how I was their No. 1 goalkeeper. I played four games during the preseason, three clean sheets. I had one of my best preseasons in my 14-year career."
On Saturday, Busch said that he got the word from De los Cobos that the team would be going with Dykstra as the starting goalkeeper this upcoming week against New York, despite Busch's successful preseason showing. According to Busch, De los Cobos reiterated that the team needed Busch's leadership still, and it was thought that Busch would be there to help Dykstra and rookie Sean Johnson.
Late Sunday, Busch said that he and Fire technical director Frank Klopas met up for a beer and was told that he would either be traded or waived that evening. Busch did not want to be traded. Over the weekend, the Fire did attempt to look for takers, but because most rosters are set at their goalkeeper slot, Chicago simply released him.
"I got blindsided on this," Busch said. "I understand the business, but I'm very disappointed."
With the MLS season just a few days away, Busch is now scrambling to find another goalkeeping option.
"My agent's been on the phone with every team, but the issue is we're one week away from the start of the season," Busch said. "Every other team has locked down their goalkeeper. So we're in a bit of a pickle, trying to figure out possibilities. I'm open to anything, if it means going to the USL for a year and coming back up, possibly trying to get into Europe. I know that based on my preseason and the way I was playing, I should be playing right now."
From the standpoint of a community advocate, a vocal leader and a man who told it like it is without generalities, Busch typically has been one of the Fire's go-to guys in all aspects. On one end of the spectrum, Busch wasn't afraid to admit when the team was not "on the same [bleeping] page," and then on the flip side he would name, one-by-one, every defender who helped him toward a clean sheet during a strong victory.
In closing the book on his time with the Fire, Busch had one request:
"Thank the fans directly for me," Busch said. "Tell them that I will miss them. I loved playing in Chicago, in front of Section 8. I'm choked up that I will not be able to play in front of them anymore, and I wanted to thank them for the three-plus years that I've been here."
If Busch's word-for-word account of this preseason holds true -- and Busch has a pretty good track record -- then why would De los Cobos spend the majority of preseason telling Busch that he was the team's No. 1 goalkeeper?
Clearly there are underlying reasons regarding the last-minute move. There is some speculation floating out there about De los Cobos potentially bringing in El Salvador national team goalkeeper Miguel Montes, but nothing has been confirmed. It also is highly ironic that this move took place just a couple days before the new collective bargaining agreement took effect, freeing up a guaranteed salary.
But whether De los Cobos brings in an experienced goalkeeper or relies on Dykstra this weekend, this is a risky move to be making one week before the start of the season. Why would you tinker with the very back of your defense this late in the preseason? Why would you rely on a set of goalkeepers who have played a combined zero MLS games in their career?
If the Fire jump out to a fantastic start to the season and Dykstra looks comfortable in the back, the decision to part ways with Busch will fade a bit. But if Chicago starts on a low note beginning with this weekend against a New York team coming off a five-win 2009 season, then the Fire have already opened themselves up to scrutiny.