KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Following Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Toronto FC, Wizards captain Davy Arnaud took rookie forward Teal Bunbury aside for a quick chat.
Bunbury had just scored the game’s only goal, his second game-winner in three games, and Arnaud wanted the young Canadian to know it was just the beginning.
“I told him if he keeps working hard, the goals will come for him,” Arnaud said. “And he has definitely been working hard for us.”
WATCH: Bunbury nets winner vs. TFC
It’s that hard work that has allowed Bunbury, the fourth pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft, to adapt seamlessly to life in manager Peter Vermes’ starting 11 after spending most of the first half of the season coming off the bench.
Bunbury didn’t make his first start for Kansas City until getting the call against Columbus eight games into the season, though he started and scored against Colorado in a US Open Cup game in April. Since then, the Canadian youth international has started six of his nine appearances, scoring twice and even drawing the praise of Sir Alex Ferguson.
For Bunbury, the increased role couldn’t have come soon enough.
“I was champing at the bit from the preseason,” he said. “My mentality is I always want to start. Whatever team I’m at, I want to play with the best, be the best. That’s just the mentality you’ve got to have as a player.”
But as much as Bunbury brought to the table, Vermes and his staff were determined to bring him along slowly. He is only 20, after all, and just seven months removed from winning the Hermann Award as a sophomore at Akron.
“With Teal, it’s been a process for us,” Vermes said. “Since Day 1 in preseason, we’ve spent time trying to bring him along as opposed to putting everything on him early and then start taking away from him, time and everything else. We’ve been able to add as the games have gone on.”
And although Bunbury may not have been completely satisfied with his minutes initially, he acknowledged the effect being held accountable in a professional environment each day has had on his game and mentality.
“It’s made me bring it each day to training,” Bunbury said, “and I think that’s what has raised my game coming from college to here. Every day I’ve got to bring it. It’s a job. People are fighting for their families, and I realize that.”
Luckily for Bunbury, he is surrounded by a group of veterans that appreciate his work rate and the attributes he brings to a center forward position that has been up for grabs this season.
Josh Wolff and Kei Kamara started the season trading off in the middle of the Wizards attacking trident, but neither is a traditional center forward and are more effective with space to work with in wide areas.
“Teal is a big, strong kid,” Arnaud said. “He’s got good pace, and he holds the ball up well for us. He’s playing that sort of lone target guy, and it’s not an easy job by any means.”
For now that job belongs to Bunbury, whose form has corresponded with Kansas City’s improved play.
“I feel like now that I’ve got the starting spot, it’s my spot to lose,” he said.