There’s a lot that goes into making a soccer team great. Seldom carried by a superstar or a great coach, the success seen on the pitch is achieved with effort from every player, including those on the bench. However, there’s one person on every team with the ability to make or break a game for even the best squads in the world: the goalkeeper.
Without a good keeper, a team is lost. That’s why redshirt sophomore TJ Bush is important to the men’s soccer squad. A leader on the pitch and in the locker room, Bush is one of the keys to the Dukes’ success.
“He’s developed from a freshman to an outstanding leader of the team,” senior defender Soheyl Alipour-Rafi said. “He makes sure that everyone stays responsible for their actions. It helps me, because it doesn’t put as much pressure on me to help [lead] the team from the back. We split the responsibilities.”
Bush attributes some of his success as a leader to first-year head coach Paul Zazenski. Taking the reins in July, Zazenski hasn’t had much time to acclimate to his new position, but Bush has already noticed a difference with the team. He notes that Zazenski’s direction has set him up for success in his own leadership role.
“We’re a pretty young locker room,” Bush said. “It’s really necessary that we have a coach who’s willing to kind of lay down the law. We’ve had a big focus on the little things this year and that change has helped us a lot.”
Bush’s influence extends beyond games and mandatory practice time. His impact is felt in the daily lives of those around him.
“TJ is someone I can look up to,” freshman goalkeeper Nathan Christenson said. “We train together every day. He’s definitely someone I can learn and prosper from during my time in Harrisonburg.”
Bush has proven himself as a fierce competitor and a valuable leader on the pitch, but around campus, he’s just another student trying to relax and get through the day. Alipour-Rafi lives with Bush and gets to see this side of him every day. The two have gotten close in their time at JMU and it shows in the way they talk about each other.
“He’s my roommate, we’ve had almost every class together since sophomore year,” Alipour-Rafi said. “We’re good friends.”
The two seem to have a lighthearted relationship. This kind of chemistry at the back of the field is important for any defensive core, especially when it’s young.
“The thing is, I don’t have the vocabulary in English that I need,” Alipour-Rafi said through stifled laughter, struggling to find the exact words to encapsulate his roommate’s persona. “Not lazy, but relaxed. Very funny and relaxed.”
However relaxed he may be on his off days, Bush describes his gameday approach as a methodical one. His main goal is to get as focused as he can in the time leading up to every match.
“I like to start listening to music pretty early,” Bush said. “Me and coach Adam [Perron] will go out to the field before everyone else to get 100 touches on the ball before the warm-up even starts so that I’ve already seen everything. It’s really all about getting focused extra early so that I can be focused as soon as the game starts.”
Bush’s approach extends into his scouting practices. He looks at everything from official scouting reports to highlight videos of opposing teams’ star players, with the goal of gaining an edge however possible.
“I like to look at tendencies,” Bush said. “Obviously right foot or left foot, if he likes to cut inside ... but generally I try to figure out everything I can to get the advantage.”
Bush is currently tied for 38th in the NCAA in total saves with 15. His performance has helped keep the Dukes within striking distance in games and has set the team up to reach its goal of winning the CAA and making the NCAA tournament this season.
His leadership, talent and poise on the back line are all huge assets to the program. Only a redshirt sophomore, Bush is making his name as JMU’s go-to keeper for the years to come.
Contact Will Watson at email@example.com. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.