MONTREAL They may no longer wear blue and gold, but former Akron Zips men’s soccer players and coaches are taking the program’s success to national and international levels, including former UA goalkeeper Evan Bush.
Bush, who graduated from Akron in 2008, is now the starting goalie for the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer. He’s one of many former Zips playing either in MLS or internationally, but unlike some of those players, his professional success was anything but quick. Bush, 31, took a long and winding road from Akron to a starting MLS job.
“When I left Akron, I kind of had to choose between whether I wanted to sign with a couple of different MLS teams, be a third or fourth goalie, or to play for a second division team and be a more relied-upon player and be assured of getting playing time as a young goalkeeper,” Bush said.
He elected to play for a now-defunct local team, the Cleveland City Stars, with whom he played 10 games his first year out of college. He thought he would get more time in goal, but it didn’t work out that way and when the season ended and the team folded due to financial issues, it was “a blessing in disguise” because Bush was then free to find a new team and not fulfill the second year of his contract with the City Stars.
His next stop was Crystal Palace Baltimore, another second-division team that bore a lot of similarities to his previous stop.
“It was kind of the same situation, but I knew I still needed to play games at the professional level before going to MLS and sitting on the bench,” Bush said.
He became a starter in Baltimore, where he and his then-girlfriend Colleen Dryja settled in and eventually got engaged. As he moved into the starting line and got engaged, Bush hoped the pieces of his life were coming together and a good game in one of his final games for Baltimore kept the momentum going.
After playing well against Montreal, the team’s then-general manager talked to Bush and gave him a business card. The two men stayed in touch and when Crystal Palace Baltimore folded after the season because business partnerships in Europe didn’t pan out and the team ran out of money, Bush traveled to Montreal for a tryout.
As it turned out, his big chance was undercut before he even arrived in Canada.
“I went up there at one of worst times I could have gone … I was playing pickup basketball two weeks before and had sprained my ankle really bad, so I went up there on one leg,” Bush said. “Two days in, I dislocated my pinkie … one injury led to the other and I had to cut my tryout short.”
After that plot twist, Bush figured his chance was gone, but the team called him a week later and offered him a spot on its preseason team that would train and compete in Arizona. Given a second chance, Bush was able to earn a roster spot and play for what at the time was Montreal’s North American Soccer League team.
When the organization’s top keeper went down seven games into the season, Bush signed his first MLS contract. Even so, the Impact brought in another keeper to start and he had to “weather the storm,” which meant being the third-string keeper, then moving up to second string before breaking into the starting lineup in 2014.
It was the break he’d been waiting for after moving himself and his now-wife, along with their growing family, across state and country lines in search of his professional success.
“If circumstances were different in my personal life, I would have had to make choice (on whether to keep playing soccer) much earlier,” Bush said. “My wife and I were dating when I left Akron, but we weren’t married and didn’t have kids at that point. I had a lot more freedom and no one I was responsible for.
He lived with his parents while playing in Cleveland to help save money and admitted that there “were lot of times where you looked at the paycheck you were getting and wondered if you were really playing professional soccer.”
Moving multiple times wasn’t easy on Bush or his soon-to-be wife.
“After we got engaged in Baltimore and when I mentioned Montreal was an option, she wasn’t very happy … she wasn’t thrilled about that,” Bush said. “I understood why … she never envisioned herself leaving Ohio and going with somebody all over the place, just rolling with punches.”
Making the move to Montreal was a big one because the city has a heavily French-Speaking culture and was much different than anywhere the couple had lived before. Their first child was born in 2013 and they now have two, one four years old and the other one years old, living and growing in Canada.
Then there’s Bush’s other family, the Akron soccer version. Numerous former UA players and coaches, including current U.S. Men’s National Team star Darlginton Nagbe, former head coach Caleb Porter and numerous others, have played or coached in MLS in recent years and according to Bush, the closeness of ex-Zips is known around the league.
“The guys I went to school with, we have a great bond. In a lot of the circles in MLS, they talk about how tight the Akron guys are,” Bush said. “It was a running joke that it’s almost a cult for a few years.
Many members of the group stay in touch and when Montreal played Portland, Bush met former teammate and current Portland assistant coach Pablo Moreira and Porter for dinner and also met up with Nagbe. It’s all part of a long and wandering journey that has stretched across years and miles and led the Cleveland native where he wants to be, tending goal for an MLS team and supporting his family playing the sport he loves.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB