BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, November 12, 2010
When Bob Bradley announced the roster for next week's friendly against South Africa, one of the most noteworthy selections was Kansas City Wizards forward Teal Bunbury who is coming off an impressive rookie season.
Bunbury, 20, enjoyed a solid youth and NCAA career with the University of Akron to then become the fourth overall selection in the 2010 MLS Draft. After a rookie season in which he scored five goals for Kansas City, Bunbury will now be looking to earn his first international cap.
"It's a great honor," Bunbury told YA on Thursday. "I am really excited to go showcase myself and show what I can do, meet the other guys who go called up, and obviously meet Bob Bradley because I've never met him. But I am really excited."
For Bunbury, he is excited by beginning his international career under Bradley whose contract has been extended through the next World Cup.
"I've heard a lot of good things about coach Bradley," Bunbury said of the US boss. "I've spoken to him once personally and he seems like a great guy. People keep telling me that he's a player's coach. So I am very excited that I could have a long time of being coached by him the next four years."
Bunbury will aim to give the US a much needed boost at the forward position. Since Charlie Davies injured himself in an automobile accident last year, the US has struggled to look dangerous at the forward position with most of the goals coming out of the midfield. It's a situation that Bunbury will try to change.
"I feel like I am different and that you can't compare me to other players," the former Akron Zip discussed. "I guess I am just going to go in there with an attitude and mindset that I am going to outwork the opposing team and really use my size and speed to my advantage. Just work hard."
The addition of Bunbury to the US roster is most significant in that it signals the end of a difficult process in which national team he would represent. Bunbury was born in Canada and is the son of Alex Bunbury, a former Canadian international and member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
Bunbury himself played for Canadian Youth National teams at the U17 and U20 levels, but after a lengthy decision process, he has decided to go with the Stars and Stripes.
"Obviously it was a tough decision having my dad play for Canada and being a hall-of-famer there," Bunbury described. "But when I really sat down with my family and my agent we were talking about what was going to be best for my future and where does my heart truly stand."
"I feel like, while I was born in Canada, I only lived there a couple years of my life," he continued. "The majority of my life I was brought up here in the United States. So in the end, I feel like I am more American than I am Canadian."
Bunbury also indicated that his decision to play for the US was made at around the time of the World Cup. He watched the US play in South Africa and he liked the direction of the US national team program.
"The biggest thing that swayed me was the World Cup," Bunbury pointed out. "Always as a kid I've wanted to play in a World Cup and to be honest, with the US you can just see it that they have a better chance to be in the World Cup."
As for his father, Bunbury said that he did consult with this father who was supportive of his son's decision to play for a different team than the one he once lead.
"My dad was just encouraging me to do what I wanted to do," the younger Bunbury said of his father. "He wanted to take everyone out of it. He said he wanted it to be ultimately my decision. Obviously he was giving me his opinion on things but he wanted me to do what was best for me and to not really care what people thought. He really helped me out a lot."
Bunbury has risen to the international stage quickly in having only been a professional for less than a year. He feels strongly that playing within Kansas City's organization has made him a better player.
"I felt that I developed and really matured as a player from the beginning of preseason until now," Bunbury insisted. "It's been great here with the Wizards. It's really been a great experience. A lot of my teammates have helped me out and gotten me to the point where I am right now."
As for where specifically he has improved this past year, Bunbury is quick to point out the coaching at Kansas City has taught him what to do when he doesn't have the ball at his feet.
"I feel like I have improved overall in my awareness and where to make my runs," Bunbury said of his game. "A lot of it was off the ball things. On the ball it came more naturally but off the ball I just had to get better with my runs. I was learning how to play a chess game with the defenders. That is where I have gotten better from college."
Bunbury makes no secret of his long term ambitions to take his game overseas into the leagues of Europe in his future. He does, however, believe that MLS is a very good starting point for a young player with ambitious goals of eventually playing at the highest levels on a weekly basis.
"I want to become the best player I can and I want to put myself around the best environment to get me there," Bunbury said of his career goals. "Ultimately it will be for me to play in Europe. That is one of my goals to play overseas. I have to keep developing as a player, that's all I can do daily."
"It took a lot of thought as to where to begin my pro career," he continued. "But for me there was a lot of security in MLS. I felt like it was a good decision for my future to start out here in the MLS and learn my trade here. Once I am ready, that's when I will get to the next step in playing and that will hopefully be overseas. "
Bunbury is no stranger to MLS and has seen the league grow from its early years. For the 1999 and 2000 seasons, Alex Bunbury was a member of the Wizards and with Teal now in the league, it is the first time the league has had a father and son both participate.
Bunbury also sees a far different MLS than the one he grew up watching. The current state of the league is far better in developing younger players and it is this factor why Bunbury is confident of the future of the game in the US.
"I've seen MLS develop through the years and it's really gotten a lot better," Bunbury said of the league. "It's very comparable to leagues in Europe, most definitely. Soccer, as a whole, in the States is just getting a lot bigger. That is great for the development of young players that are looking for a professional career. MLS is not looked down upon. Young players are really interested in coming to the MLS. It's been a great experience for me."
The highlight of Bunbury's season was in Kansas City's 2-1 defeat of European power Manchester United in a friendly in July. While Bunbury did not score, his strong play earned praise from United's legendary head coach Sir Alex Ferguson who singled Bunbury out in his post game press conference.
"For me, it was a turning point for me in my young career," Bunbury recalled of the victory. "It was the game for me when I realized that for whomever I go up against, I can do the things that I want to do. It comes down to just being focused, really determined, and being ready to take on any opponent. So that game really ignited a fire in me to realize my full potential. "
"Hearing those kind words from Sir Alex was just an amazing feeling in that he singled me out. That was really cool to hear."
Bunbury will now hope for a second turning point in his memorable year when he hopes to earn his first international cap for the US when they take on South Africa on Wednesday in Cape Town's Green Point Stadium.