It's always exciting when you get the opportunity to talk with a goalkeeper who has such an impressive resume. We recently spoke with former James Madison University and Seattle Sounders draftee TJ Bush about his journey through the college ranks and into the professional realm. A great interview with a great goalkeeper so give it a read!
1. You were a multi-sport athlete during high school, why did you end up choosing soccer?
I always kind of knew that I would end up choosing soccer. I played both basketball and soccer all while growing up, but I actually took a year off of high school basketball my junior year to focus on getting recruited for soccer. When I was finally committed to JMU for soccer, my senior year of basketball was more just for fun than anything else.
2. Talk about your decision to go to James Madison University. How was the recruiting process for you? What factors went into deciding on James Madison?
JMU had always been on my radar. It’s only about a two-hour drive from my house, so they were one of the first schools I reached out to in terms of recruiting. The recruiting process was tough. I never played for any academies growing up, just a small club in Northern Virginia called Southwestern Youth Association. Because I wasn’t playing in big tournaments like Dallas Cup and all of that, I had to do a little bit more leg work to get noticed. Every weekend I was sending emails to a bunch of college coaches with highlights, stats, or whatever might get them to come out to take a look at me. Like I said, JMU was one of the first schools I looked at, and also was one of my only D1 offers, so the decision was actually pretty easy in the end for me.
3. At what point in your youth or college career did you realize that professional soccer was a realistic possibility for you?
After the 2018 fall season at JMU is when I realized I had a real chance at playing professionally. We had just finished up playing in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament, so we were kind of in the spotlight as a whole team. Our defense had done really well which helped my stats out a lot. Because of this spotlight we were in, I was invited out to a goalkeeper combine the Houston Dynamo hold yearly for the top goalkeepers in college soccer. Just knowing that, in their eyes, I could potentially have what it took to be a pro was enough for me to chase my goal of being a pro soccer player.
4. You had a successful college career and have now joined the professional ranks. A lot of people question the importance of college soccer. What are your thoughts? How did college soccer prepare you for the next step?
For me personally, I think the college game was great for developing me as a player, and if I had to do it all over again I absolutely would. The college experience is great all around and something I would recommend to anyone. On the other side, however, I am now 23 just starting my professional career. There are plenty who skip college and look to start at the age of 16 or 17, who can develop just as much by playing with pro teams. In my mind, I think it just depends what opportunities you are presented and definitely depends from person to person.
5. Describe the feeling of being drafted? What was it like building up to that day? How did you feel afterwards?
Being drafted was a surreal experience. It was very stressful building up to the day, to be honest, because I wasn’t sure if I would be drafted or not. I was right on the cusp with a couple of teams, but no one had come out and committed to drafting me yet. I actually had no prior contact with Seattle before they drafted me, so as the picks kept coming in I was more and more sure it wasn’t going to happen. I was surprised and so relieved when my name did pop up, as having that opportunity to even just go in to train with them and fight for a contract would be helpful in kickstarting my career wherever that was going to be.
6. What was your experience like with the Seattle Sounders? Was the adjustment to the MLS level difficult?
It definitely took some adjusting, but overall, the high level of training and being around guys who have been around the game forever was a fantastic experience. Everyone has such a great knowledge of the game and I feel like my game improved even in such a short time getting to train with Tom Dutra (the goalkeeper coach) who is one of the best in the country.
7. You got the opportunity to train with an experienced goalkeeping core in Seattle, what did you learn during your time with the group?
Unfortunately, Stefan was actually injured when I was there, so I didn’t get to train with him directly while I was there, but he was around the facility, and I still got to speak with him a couple times which was great. Stefan Cleveland and Spencer Richey, the two other keepers, were great though. They treated me as one of their own, gave some great tips on areas they saw that could improve my game. They are both great role models to have as they worked hard to get to where they are, and I know that to get where I want to be, I have to have work ethic just as good as theirs.
8. What were your thoughts after leaving Seattle? Disappointment? Motivation?
Initially, there was definitely a lot of disappointment. I think that quickly fizzled into motivation, as the second I knew it wasn’t going to happen with Seattle right now, I hopped on the phone with my agent and immediately started looking to next steps. In my mind, there is no point in this business on getting hung up on what could have been, because if you do other opportunities will fly right by your head.
9. Any advice for aspiring college and professional goalkeepers that can help them on their journey?
I think that the biggest thing I have taken away from my whole experience is just about the biggest cliché there is when it comes to this sort of thing, put in what you want to get out of it. You have to be your own biggest advocate, and no matter where you’re starting from you can find a path directly to where you want to end up.
10. Our final question: If you weren't playing professional soccer, what would you be doing?
My college degree is in Business Management and Computer information systems with a minor in business analytics, so I would probably be looking to find a job in analytics somewhere. My hope is to use some of my free time to try to figure out a way to use my analytics background to improve other goalkeepers or soccer players’ game in some way shape or form down the road.