Teal Bunbury talks really fast. You can tell he has lots of ideas of his own, but sometimes he tries to just say the "right" thing.
After all, he wants to be a good teammate. And he wants to be a good employee.
And by all accounts, he is both.
And he’s barely 21 years old. And, oh yeah, he wants to go play in Europe and will probably get a shot at that real soon.
I’ve said it before, KC: enjoy Teal while you can, because sooner rather than later you’ll be watching him Sunday mornings on FSC…
"Ever since I was young I’ve dreamed of playing overseas, so that is one of my ultimate goals," Teal says, before adding the obligatory "good guy" qualifier, "But as of right now I’m totally focused on Sporting KC." His favorite team? "Arsenal, that’s my squad, Arsenal," he continues, "It started with watching Thierry Henry play."
Henry is now in the MLS, playing for the New York Red Bulls, and you can tell that Teal was a little awestruck when KC faced him for the first time last season. "It was awesome, walking out the tunnel, standing right beside him, and just talking with him a little bit," Teal gushes.
A lot has happened in the last year and a half in the life of KC’s most prized young talent. He won the Hermann Trophy at the University of Akron his sophomore season, which goes to the nation’s best collegiate player. He was drafted 4th overall in the 2010 MLS Superdraft by KC and finished his rookie season strong, scoring a handful of goals and becoming one of the brighter spots in an otherwise disappointing season for KC.
Then, in the offseason, England came calling.
Stoke City of the English Premier League invited him to train with them and he impressed, scoring a goal in a reserve match. Sporting KC breathed a sigh of relief when Teal’s plane touched back down on US soil, fearing that the inevitable might be coming quicker than they’d thought.
Then the US Men’s National Team came calling. And wouldn’t you know it; Bunbury scored a goal shortly thereafter. Is Teal surprised by all this? Not really, but he knows he’s only scratched the surface.
"I’m a goal scorer, that’s my job, to score goals. It’s hard to say that’s my strength because that’s what I’m paid to do – score goals. So I feel like I’m doing that well," says Bunbury matter of factly. "But I feel like I can improve on a lot. I have a long ways to go, I haven’t done much yet. I still got a lot of things to work on. My left foot, my heading, holding the ball up better, I could go on and on and on…"
Certainly, most soccer players peak around the age of 27 or 28, so there’s no rush for Bunbury and some of the other young elite athletes that US Soccer has available to them now. And make no mistake, Teal is an elite athlete. At 6’2", 180 pounds, with quickness and leaping ability you might see in a wide receiver, Teal is among the new breed of American soccer athletes that includes Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore.
No longer are all the best American athletes automatically choosing football or basketball or baseball. No, some of this new generation is now doing what many top European and South American athletes have been doing for decades – choosing to be a soccer player.
"It’s hard for me to really say that my generation of players are players who are the best athletes choosing to play soccer," says Teal. "I feel like there’s a lot of young athletes here that choose to play soccer. But the culture is different here in the states than it is in Europe. So it’s hard to judge the soccer aspect with young players here choosing to play football or choosing to play basketball. I feel like there are a lot of good athletes who have chosen to play soccer in the US who are now part of the national team."
Which is not to say he doesn’t see the US catching up with the traditional soccer powers at an exponential pace.
"It’s only getting better, the success soccer’s had here, the more people are watching it. Just going from the recent World Cup where so many fans here in the US are getting more interested in soccer. I think it’s only going to get better in the next couple years," says Bunbury. No, he’s not done. "More players, kids on youth levels are getting better. I see it rising. I’ve witnessed young talent who play two different sports but they choose soccer just for the fact that the US national team is making it exciting or their favorite European team is making it exciting so it makes them want to play."
And Teal is a big part of that. He’s recently become one of the hand-picked faces of the MLS and is featured in most of its TV promos. If Teal keeps "doing his job" – scoring goals – MLS might have to find a new face for next season.
Does Teal have a number?
"Yeah, I have a number," Bunbury says. "I’ve told a few people, going into the preseason, it was 15 goals, so we’ll see."
He already has 3. I’m putting my money on the over.