Standard direction to take on a Teal Bunbury interview is to play up the “father-son” angle. Teal and his father Alex are the first father-and-son pairing to grace MLS and Alex, Teal’s Dad, is a Canadian soccer legend.
Given that Teal probably answers more questions about his Dad then about pretty much anything else, we thought we’d ask Teal about his mom midstream through the interview. It went like this.
TSG: What influence did your mom have on your game growing up…given that everyone talks about your dad?
Teal: She’s had so much influence because when I was younger my dad was my coach, you know, and he was pretty hard on me.
I always had my mom backing me up when I was feeling down at times and she was really great. She’d help with my forms for tournaments or help pack my bags on trips. She’s been great throughout the years.
She’s really proud of me now, she’s really supportive and she’s really into everything. I’ve very thankful for her.
TSG: That’s great, but you just opened up a question about your Dad. How tough was he as a coach?
Teal: He was just always on my case for everything. It seemed like I could never really impress him.
But it was for the best and looking back on it I’m blessed that he did that because I wouldn’t be able to be where I am now without him.
TSG: Did you have to do something like line up 10 balls in a row and deposit them one-by-one in the top right corner. What was the hardest thing that he put you through in terms of your childhood training?
Teal: Well it wasn’t one specific thing, but it felt like every little thing I did in training he would critique. Obviously my teammates were there but it seemed like he was always singling me out for everything. If I had one bad touch he was on my case….which isn’t a bad thing though.
It prepared me for my career.
And….damn! TSG just fell into the the father-son angle trap. Sorry Teal. We tried.
Teal Bunbury is in Carson, California this month after being chosen and accepting an invitation to Bob Bradley’s US National Team January Camp. The 20-year-old tacked on a very busy offseason to a successful rookie campaign at now-Sporting KC.
Having traveled with Generation Adidas counterparts to exhibitions in Spain, Bunbury went for a two-week training session at Stoke City FC of the Barclays Premier League.
Following the conclusion to his time at Stoke, Bunbury had a quick turnaround for the holidays in his native Minnesota and now finds himself contesting a spot up top on the national team for the next three weeks in California.
Much has been accomplished in past two years for the physically imposing frontman including his first MLS goal and his first cap with the US National Team in South Africa.
However you get the sense when talking to Bunbury, who is soft-spoken and pauses to think before he speaks, that past accolades are quickly forgotten and merely a prologue to some long reaching goals that Bunbury has for himself.
Bunbury’s measured disposition should serve him well as he becomes a bigger focus of the offense this year in Kansas City and as he vies for a spot in the number 9 role for the national team. (Just ask Jozy.)
And now….Teal Bunbury:
TSG: First, what’s the origin of the name Teal? How was it chosen for you?
Teal: Well, my mom…when she was pregnant with me… she was just reading in the newspaper and she saw someone named Teal and she was just like, “I want to name my son Teal.”
And I’m thankful for that for sure.
TSG: It’s certainly a good name for a striker?
Teal: Yeah I like it, it’s kind of got a little flair.
TSG: Let’s jump in to where you were most recently, at Stoke-on-Trent. Some confusion as to what you were doing over there. You were training, not trialing, correct?
Teal: Yeah, I went there just to get experience overseas. And it was a really good experience.
People were trying to play it up in the media and saying “Oh, it’s a trial and all this.”
But I was just training and I was just trying to get a sense of the lifestyle and the culture and such.
TSG: How did Stoke specifically come about? Was it your agent or someone else?
Teal: It was through my agent. He was the one who set it all up. We went through the league and they said it would be fine if I went over there and trained for a week and a half.
TSG: So now, you’re over there. You’re playing in the reserve games and such…
I saw you mention on Twitter that you learned quite a bit in your short time there. What did you learn?
Teal: Specifically, that I have to think ahead a little bit more than I have been. And just be a little bit more dynamic.
When I get opportunities and chances–as in the final pass or an opportunity on goal–I have to make the most of it. Because as the level of play gets better and higher, things like that tend to speed up.
TSG: The funny thing is…and I don’t know how the training sessions are set up there, but you were probably in a group with other CONCACAF strikers in Kenwynne Jones (Trinidad & Tobago) and Ricardo Fuller (Jamaica).
Teal: All the guys were really embracing,especially those guys Kenwynne Jones and Ricardo Fuller. They were helping me out and we were joking all the time. Our friendship really built over the time I was there.
Overall it was a lot of fun.
TSG: What impressed you the most about your striker counterparts?
Teal: The most is how dedicated they were-…how focused and dedicated they were despite what time of year it was and the weather during training and everything.
TSG: Now in your reserve game–I know you were an Arsenal fan growing up–but you paired with former Chelsea star Eidur Gudjohnsen up top. Correct?
Teal: Yeah, yeah!
TSG: How did it feel to have such a big name as your strike partner?
Teal: It was kind of surreal, you know.
When I first got there I thought would just be training, I didn’t know I would be playing in a game.
But I played up top with him and it was like a dream come true. He gave me a lot of pointers.
TSG: And the midfield line for that game–we’re nerds over here, we looked at the line-up behind you. The midfield had two Irish guys in Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson. Any idea, ever, what was coming out of their mouths?
Teal: Ha. Ha. It took me a little while to understand exactly what they were saying. There accents are so strong.
TSG: Okay, you are probably one of the few people qualified to answer this question. You played with Eric Lichaj in South Africa…we’ll get to your national team experience in a moment…and now Rory Delap at Stoke, both known for their extraordinary throw-ins. Who’s got a better throw-in?
Teal: Wow…that’s a tricky one. They’ve both got a lot of distance and power. It’s pretty evenly matched in my opinion.
TSG: C’mon. I’ll put the question this way, if you had to bet on one who would it be?
Teal: I honestly–I couldn’t tell you that.
TSG: Okay, I’ll let you off the hook, but we’re calling you on the next one.
How did you leave it with Stoke City? Is it a possible location for you later in your career or for another training stint?
Teal: I hope so. The manager came up to me and thanked me for being there. In the future, if something comes up there that would be great. But right now I’m totally committed to Kansas City.
All players at some point want to test themselves against the highest possible competition and I’m no different in that regard.
TSG: Let’s move to Sporting KC. The MLS Re-entry draft recently happened. And two of the team’s longstanding veteran leaders, Josh Wolff and Jimmy Conrad, we’re selected to play for other teams
In absence of them, who’s going to step up and be the new leaders?
Teal: They [Wolff, Conrad] were two great players and they still are. They did a lot for KC. My 1st season there they helped me through the tough times. They’re really going to be missed by the players and the club.
Josh Wolff, I’ll specifically miss, because he played the same position that I do.
The players that I think will step up more will be our captain Davy Arnaud who really shows his passion off the field.
TSG: You’re likely to be named to the starting rotation more frequently in 2011, is leadership something that you’ll provide as well or are you looking to come in and focus exclusively on what you have to do at your position? What’s your mindset heading in to 2011?
Teal: I’m trying to stay focused on my job and the things that I can control. If my role means me stepping up and being a leader than I’ll be a leader.
But I know it’s my 2nd season, so I don’t want to overstep my bounds. The best way I know how to lead anyway is by example. To go out there and do my job.
TSG: KC certainly has–in my opinion–one of the more dynamic front lines. I had the occasion to watch an interview with your dad in preparing for this interview, I believe it was from the draft last year. A quote that stuck with me was, “Teal’s a little bit more of goal scorer than I was.”
However if you look at the KC front line yuou may be asked to me more of a target player. How do you see your position developing next year?
Teal: Yeah we’ll have to see next year.
But yeah, I possibly could be looked as more of a target player, but also being looked at as someone who can go at the other team’s backline.
I don’t try to label my game as a target player, because I’ve got more to it [his game] than that.
As long as I’ve on the field and contributing is all I care about.
TSG: Had a chance to interact with Omar Bravo at all?
Teal: No, not yet.
TSG: Okay, then let’s move to the national team. Congratulations on your selection to January camp….actually let’s backtrack for a second.
Unless you want to offer something on your US-Canada decision….I’m more interested in moving forward from there. I’m more interested in learning how the selection actually went down rather than why you choose which team.
Was there anything special you had to do because you had not–at least publicly–chosen a team to represent?
Teal: The way it works. I got a call from Pam Perkins [General Manager of the US Men’s National Team] a week before the camp. I hadn’t really made up my decision or anything yet.
But after talks with my family and agent, I just felt with where I want to be heading with my career that it was the best decision for my career. I’m really happy with the decision I made.
I’m looking forward to the January camp to really showcase my ability and learn a lot.
TSG: Now…going back to that South Africa game…so you let Pam Perkins know that you were available. Is there anything official that comes your way from USSF?
Teal: It wasn’t anything really. She actually called me in advance and said that I was already invited. After that, I just got an email talking about who else was going, the flight information and stuff like that.
TSG: Is that a fun email to get?
Teal: Yeah, it’s exciting. Not only the US, but a trip to South Africa as well.
TSG: Did you save the email?
Teal: Yeah, I believe I still have it.
TSG: So you hop on the plane to South Africa.
Let me ask this question now. You played for Peter Vermes, you played for Caleb Porter at Akron, an up and coming college coach, and now down in South Africa you played for Bob Bradley.
Compare and contrast their coaching styles and training sessions.
Teal: Well, I really feel like–in a way–they’re all pretty similar.
When I got to Kansas City…Peter Vermes was really similar to Caleb Porter–obviously they have their differences–but for the most part they have the same mindset.
In KC, Peter Vermes really likes to attack. He’s very attacked-oriented. On defense he likes to press up to win the ball and then go right to goal as quickly as possible once we have possession.
And that’s the same as Caleb Porter at Akron.
When I went to South Africa and trained with Bob Bradley. He’s more reserved in his style.
One thing about him is he’s very serious as people can tell, but he knows what he’s talking about and he’s very, very professional about everything.
TSG: And what was his strategy for that game? Obviously a lot of new players to integrate. What was the game plan going in to face Bafana Bafana?
Teal: The biggest thing was he said was: It’s bunch of new guys coming together and the chemistry wasn’t totally there . We’d be in a hostile environment with all the vuvuzelas and everything going on.
He just wanted us to play together and have fun. Those were his two biggest topics of the week.
TSG: Well it certainly looked like you guys enjoyed the game on the pitch.
Who did you room with down there?
Teal: I was with Robbie Findley.
TSG: Did he help take you through the reps?
Teal: It was my first time meeting him and from the first day to the last day our friendship grew also.
He was really helpful in training sessions and letting me know how they went. Even good with little things as well, like what to wear to meals and being on time and such.
TSG: And what did it feel to step on the field for the Stars & Stripes?
Teal: It was an amazing feeling. It’s hard to put into words…I know a lot people say that, but it was truly amazing, especially the atmosphere.
….and I’m honored to put on the US jersey and play for my country.
TSG: With a lot of the senior team missing, who were the players that were looked as the leaders in South Africa?
I would say Brad Guzan, most definitely. He was the captain and the biggest leader. Yeah, I feel like Brad Guzan was the biggest one.
TSG: Now, so you’re headed into January camp here. I would say there is a lot of excitement in the fanbase about the quote “growing partnership of Agudelo and Bunbury.”
Do you see it as a “let’s develop this partnership” mentality or as you’re competing against three other strikers.
What’s the mindset going into camp?
Teal: It’s kind of like a little bit of both. Obviously you’re going there and you’re trying to impress. No one is going to sit here and tell you we’re just going to be buddy-buddy.
Obviously we’re all competing for a spot and trying to show what we got.
At the same time, these could be players that you could be playing with in the near future, so you want to build some chemistry in tandem together.
TSG: I’ll come back to the question that I asked earlier. The USMNT definitely needs someone who can hold up the ball up the field. Do you feel that that’s the role that you are looking to fill here or is it, again, just a more general striking role?
Teal: I would “say” a more general striking role, but obviously with my size a lot of people say that I should be holding the ball up and giving the defense some time after relieving pressure.
TSG: I just wanted to comment on this. You had a turn in the South Africa game where you thighed the ball off your left leg to open up your left foot and take a shot. Now it wasn’t the greatest shot….[the ball was grounded right to the keeper]
Teal: (laughing) Yeah, yeah. I know.
TSG: …but it was a great turn. What do you think your best technical skill is…because I watched Agudelo in that game and I’ve obviously see Jozy quite a bit and that was one of the best technical moves I’ve seen from a US striker in recent memory.
Teal: Thanks man.
On my best technical skills, I’m not quite sure. I would say, I guess…like you described, my first touch at times…but I have a lot of stuff to work on. I don’t have anything yet that this is my best quality.
The answer is I still have a lot of things to work on.
TSG: Okay, let’s finish up with some questions about your teammates. Who’s the best passer you’ve played with.
Teal: Hmm…played with a lot of good passes. I know we just talked about him but Eidur Gudjohnsen is really up there.
TSG: Who’s the toughest defender you went up against?
You know me and Michael Harrington have some battles. He…
TSG: (interrupting) You can’t pick your friends! Pick someone you’re not buddies with. Someone you play against.
Teal: (laughing) Okay, Marvell Wynne. He’s got so much speed and so much strength. I like to use my physical qualities against defenders but he can match up. He’s got the strength and he can run with you.
TSG: Here’s a TSG standard one: God forbid you’re in dark alley and about to be jumped by a bunch of thugs. Who’s the one teammate you’d want to stand and fight with you?
Teal: Without out a doubt Kei Kamara.
TSG: Really?! He’s seems more of the joker type.
Teal: Yeah, but if you cross him.
TSG: According to Ryan Smith who we spoke with earlier this year, Kei is more likely to be involved in dressing up like a rainbow than getting in a scuffle.
Teal: It’s really ridiculous. It’s everyday that he has some ridiculous outfit on. It’s like a fashion show ….everyday.
Some of his style is good, but sometimes it’s pretty shocking.
TSG: On the national team, who’s got the best shot in your opinion.
Teal: My opinion…hmm. well I’ll have to go with Landon Donovan.
TSG: Okay, we’ll end there Teal. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck in January camp and next year at Sporting.
Teal: Thanks a lot man. Ciao.
…on consulting good friend Steve Zakuani on his decision to play for the States. (Zakuani recently decided to play for the Congo than consider a possible chance at playing with the United States:
We didn’t really discuss it because when he made his decision he was in South Africa.
…..on whether he qualifies for a Euro passport because his dad resided and played in Portugal:
I believe he qualifies for a passport because of his time there and I think that can help me, but he doesn’t have a Portuguese passport at this time.