KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The year began with Teal Bunbury making two starts for the US national team. First Kick found him No. 1 on the depth chart at center forward for Sporting Kansas City. Just after that, he headed off to join the US Under-23s for Olympic qualifying.
SAVE: Bunbury forces stop from Saunders
This week, he could be found playing a full 90 in a Reserve League match, with no London trip booked for the summer after the US failed to qualify – and still looking for his first goal of the year in any competition and his first league start since that opening game.
But if Bunbury is frustrated by his early lack of production – and by C.J. Sapong’s move into the regular starter’s spot – he isn’t showing it.
“I’m doing fine,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday, after coming close on several chances in a 1-0 reserves loss to Colorado. “I can only do things that I can control: training, working hard and all that. It’s team first. It’s not all about me. I go and I put the work in. I know it’s a long season and things happen. So I’m very thankful that I have this opportunity. I’m not going to let it go to waste.”
Manager Peter Vermes is taking a similar long view.
Bunbury’s start with the reserves was neither a demotion nor an attempt to give the young forward a chance to build confidence against backup opposition, Vermes said Tuesday.
“I’m not concerned whether he can score or not,” Vermes said. “He’s just got to keep his 90-minute fitness going. I’ve said all along that we’re going to need guys on this team to step up throughout the entire season. We’re not even a third of the way through yet, so we have a lot of games to play.”
And if 2011 was any indication, Bunbury could hit a hot streak at any time.
Of his nine regular-season goals, which tied him for team-high honors, four came in the last seven games of Sporting’s push to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. He added two more in the postseason, helping SKC reach the conference championship game before they fell 2-0 to Houston.
“Goalscorers,” Vermes said. “They’re kind of like that. They’re streaky guys. Listen, I know he can hit the net. That part I’m not concerned about. I know he’ll get opportunities, and he’ll wind up finishing them.”
That’s the plan, according to Bunbury.
“When I get my opportunities, I’m just trying to do the best that I can,” he said. “Obviously, as a forward I want to score goals. The more minutes I play, the more goals I can score. That’s my mindset.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.