Off the PitchAug 23, 2018

Representing the Players: Evan Bush

“Player Representatives are the lifeblood of the Players Association.” says MLSPA Executive Director Bob Foose, “They serve as the primary liaison between the PA staff and the full locker room.  They help guide individual players, provide feedback to our staff, elect the Executive Board and represent the PA in their interactions with team and league staff, the media and the fan base.”

But, who are these players? What motivates them to volunteer their time and energy to the efforts of the PA? How do they think about the work they do for the rest of their colleagues? We talked to Player Representative Evan Bush to find out.

Evan Bush is the man in the net for the Montreal Impact and has been since a breakout season in 2015. He is an MLS original with the team, joining the Impact a year before they moved into the league, which is somewhat strange for a player who didn’t originally choose Major League Soccer.

© Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

“I’ve had an unorthodox path,” Bush said of his journey from the University of Akron to the Impact. After leaving school, he chose to head to the USL rather than pursue opportunities in MLS. “It was a different time in MLS at that point,” he recalled, “the minimum salaries were low, there wasn’t going to be any playing time and there weren’t any USL partnerships with MLS teams. So, it was kind of a conscious decision at that point to go the second division.”

Bush signed with the Cleveland Stars, and while he found some of the playing time he was looking for, he also found that the conditions were well below what he had grown used to at Akron.  “It was a terrible organization,” Bush remembered, “It was kind of a blessing in disguise that they folded at the end of that season for financial reasons.”

The collapse of the Cleveland Stars took Bush to another second division team in Baltimore. The conditions were similar and so was the eventual fate of the club. “To train with the level of players at Akron and all the facilities and then to go to a second division team for the next two seasons was really humbling,” Bush said, “It was something that made me question if I really wanted to continue on this path. The only reason that I kept playing was because I didn’t have any responsibilities in life yet. I wasn’t married. I didn't have kids to support or anything like that. I wouldn’t have been able to do it at this point in my career.”

Fortunately, his time in Baltimore was not wasted. In a game against Montreal he came to the attention of a club with ambitions to be something more than its current second division rivals. “I had a very good game and their technical director gave me his card,” Bush recalled, “Long story short I did a trial with Montreal that following off season, signed a contract with them and followed them up to the MLS the next season. Now, I’ve been here for 8 years.”

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The idea of being a professional soccer player didn’t really occur to Bush when he was growing up in Mentor, Ohio. It wasn’t until college that he even considered it as a possibility. He then quickly discovered how challenging and unglamorous such a career could be in the US at the time, and that experience gave him a perspective that isn’t as available to young players today. That perspective has been a big part of his service as a Player Representative. “I think my experience from my first few years, with having to make choices about where I wanted to play, led to wanting to help the younger guys coming into the league, to help provide more stability and a better foundation for what they are able to achieve while in the league,” Bush said.

Bush has been a Player Representative in the MLSPA since 2015. Since his unexpected introduction to the PA at the December 2014 Player Rep Meeting in Las Vegas, when he attended in place of Patrice Bernier, he has grown to understand more of what a union is trying to accomplish and why the work is important. He admits to some early skepticism, but after seeing the CBA negotiations first hand he has grown to appreciate the effect the players can have on the conditions in the league. “I was sort of thrown into the fire and pretty much just a spectator for the first year,” Bush recalls of that first Vegas meeting, “But the more I got involved and understood the intricacies of negotiations and bargaining, the more I’ve taken it seriously over the last few years.”  

As a Player Rep, Bush is one of the key resources players look to for answers when issues arise, and he seems increasingly comfortable with that part of his role. He admits that a lot of the work is reactive. “A lot of times you don’t hear anything until someone’s got an issue.” Bush said, “And that’s fine, that’s part of what you do. The guys are aware and they understand who to go to when they have an issue.” But, he also recognizes that being proactive is important, particularly in a locker room with a lot of international players who may not fully understand the role of the PA. “I think that over time I’ve been more comfortable with asserting myself in meeting situations and speaking to the full group or taking certain groups aside and kind of explaining what I'm doing, how I can help them, and letting everyone know that if they have issues they can come to me.”

All the players that are involved in the union are people who have the same thirst for knowledge and the same thirst to grow as people."
© Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The work with the PA is not all selfless for Bush. He also sees a lot of personal value in working closely on league issues. “It’s given me more insight into how the league works, how collective bargaining agreements and negotiations work,” said Bush, “Ideally I want to stay involved in the game when I’m done playing, whether that’s at the professional level or whether that’s at the academy level or the college level. I have an understanding now of how all these things work.”

“The other part of working with the PA is just the natural network, not only the people working at the union but the players.” Bush said as he continued to elaborate on the personal benefits of working as a Player Rep, “Because all the players that are involved in the union are people who have the same thirst for knowledge and the same thirst to grow as people. Those are the people that after they’re done playing end up in positions that are making decisions and you want to be in those circles and in those networks.”

Of course, that networking hasn’t always been comfortable. Afterall, many of the other reps are players that have stood on the other side of the field. But, common goals provide a great salve to on-field rivalries, or as Bush would put it, “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve become friends with because of the union that I otherwise had a terrible opinion of just from playing against them.”

The personal benefits are clearly important to Bush, but they don’t overshadow the PA’s role in improving the experience of the players. The legacy being forged by the current member is certainly on his mind. While he thinks that the improvements made in wages and minimum salaries are clearly important accomplishments, he is quick to talk about player movement as an important factor in improving overall working conditions. “I think we’ve already seen a lot of changes in the last 4-5 years from the work that we’ve put in. It’s the byproduct of now having some sort of freedom of movement,” Bush suggests, “teams understand that they have to have better working conditions on a day-to-day basis in order to attract players to their club because now the players have at least a little bit more freedom to move from one place to another. So moving forward, I’d like to continue to make that freedom of movement accessible to more players so more people can take advantage of it. In turn, that will make clubs have to make things better and better.”

You’re helping not only the people in the league but the people that will come after you."

In the end, Bush is proud of his work with the PA and suggests involvement to young players interested in making an impact on the league. When asked what he would say to those players, Bush is unequivocal. “Obviously you’re helping not only the people in the league but the people that will come after you. Even more than that, you’re arming yourself with more knowledge of how the system works in MLS because MLS is a very intricate league with a lot of different rules. The only way to understand what you’re capable of in your career and what you’re capable of asking for is by understanding a lot of those different mechanisms and how they work,” he said, “Also, the network that you’re able to form becomes a valuable asset as you move forward. Whether it’s exchanging opinions or ideas on what’s going on in the league or on what’s going on outside of soccer that can benefit yourself or your community in the future. I think the ability to further yourself as an individual, as a team, as a group of people is pretty much endless because we’re always working towards what we can make better.”

You can follow Evan on Twitter and Instagram