[U.S. SOCCER] For Teal Bunbury, the main topic is no longer why he decided to do what he did, but rather what he can do with that decision behind him. He's not the first soccer player to change national allegiances, but not every player forsakes the nation his father played for, in this case Canada, to represent the USA. And he did so after wearing the Maple Leaf at the U-17 and U-20 levels, so consternation and outrage erupted north of the border when his decision became public.
“To be honest, every day I feel blessed and honored to be given thisprivilege," said Bunbury last week prior to the U.S. match against Chile. “I want to make the most of it and not let it slip away, to take full advantage of it.”
That he has done.
Thankfully, answering the same old questions over and over again may be a thing of the past. Bunbury not only says the right things but does a lot of good things on the field.
In his first U.S. appearance last November, Teal Bunbury played 2010 World Cup host South Africa on its home soil. He punctuated his second cap Saturday with an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner from the penalty spot that earned the U.S. a 1-1 tie with Chile at Home Depot Center that he and fellow sub Juan Agudelo enlivened as subs in the 59th minute.
“They were just telling us to go in there and try to make an impact,” said Bunbury of the instructions from Coach Bob Bradley and his staff with the U.S. trailing, 1-0. “I was feeling confident going into the game. They were trying to pressure us and really go forward.
“I felt like as a team we did really well to attack and take advantage of what they were giving us. I knew that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make an impact. I feel like everyone stepped it up in the second half.”
A sharp passing sequence released Agudelo into the penalty area and a late tackle tripped him up. After a short debate amongst a few players, Bunbury stepped up to rifle the ball cleanly into the net. The goal was just reward for the effort expended by two forwards and other players determined to get back the goal they conceded in the 54th minute.
“They both seem to find good spots in terms of holding on to balls but also coming underneath, and as you work with these young guys in camp you see the potential,” said Bradley. “There still are little things that need a lot of work. A lot has to happen quickly for both of them. Hopefully we can keep moving them in the right direction.”
Bunbury’s father, Alex, ended his playing career with Kansas City, the team that claimed Bunbury -- the 2009 Hermann Trophy winner -- out of the University of Akron a year ago with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 SuperDraft. Peter Vermes, Kansas City’s head coach, is himself the son of a former professional player, and Bunbury appreciates how Vermes let him find his feet in the pro game. As a rookie Bunbury played 26 of 30 games (13 starts), scored five goals, and notched two assists.
“A lot of it was just the speed of play and trying to think faster,” said Bunbury while echoing what most college products believe is the major adjustment. “Preseason really helped me get ready for the regular season, so when that came I was ready to go. My coach brought me in slowly but surely and that really helped develop me as a player.
“About halfway through I started picking my game up and now I’m just trying to get better. My first MLS season, I think I did well, but I’m striving for more. I’m not satisfied with what I did last year. I have to focus on what I can control and what I can do right now.”
Alex Bunbury also played in Portugal and England, and scored 16 goals from 1986 to 1997 for Canada. He and his son talk a lot about the game and areas of improvement necessary for continued success in 2011, a season of high expectations during which Sporting Kansas City will welcome Mexican attacker Omar Bravo and open its new stadium in June. He doesn't turn 21 until next month but growing up fast is part of the pro life.
“He’s always watching my games and giving me advice,” Teal Bunbury says. “I talk to him regularly. He always tells me to be humble, to be determined but not overconfident. Overall he’ll just talk about everything.
“After my games he’ll critique me, telling me what I did well and what I need to work on. He’s always there for a helpful hand and so is my mom. She traveled around with my dad everywhere, so she knows about that life. She’s just a loving mother who really cares. They went through those ups and downs of a pro athlete with my dad.”
His U.S. career, though brief, has affected him deeply. A few months after watching the World Cup from South Africa on television, there he was Nov. 17 in Cape Town, on the Green Point Stadium field, coming on as a halftime sub. Agudelo entered in the 61st minute and with five minutes left netted the game’s only goal. It was a dream debut for both of them.
“Watching a game on TV, you can hear the vuvuzuelas and they’re really loud,” Bunbury says, “but when I was walking onto the field for the first time and they were going, you had to be about a foot away to hear someone.
“That in itself was amazing, just how different is the culture and how into the game they are and how much soccer intelligence they have. It’s hard to find words to say how amazing it was, but I will cherish it forever."