KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Hours before Sporting Kansas City embarked on the next chapter in the club’s history, Teal Bunbury began one of his own.
Bunbury earned his first cap for the United States national team in a 1-0 victory against South Africa on Wednesday in Cape Town, playing 45 minutes after replacing Robbie Findley at halftime.
The Sporting KC striker, who scored five goals and dished out two assists during his rookie season, played target forward for coach Bob Bradley and showed glimpses of the potential that inspired his first call up and appearance with the US.
“He had really about six touches,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said of Bunbury. “Four of them were really good. He got a shot off from a good first touch. I thought there were times when he was a little held back because of the way they were playing. I could tell he wanted to go and press the ball, and he had to be a little more tactically inclined to their system and how they wanted to play.”
Bunbury’s shot came in the 55th minute when he took the ball down with his thigh and drove a low, left-footed shot that was on frame but failed to seriously trouble Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
And although fellow debutant 17-year-old Juan Agudelo scored the winning goal and drew the most plaudits, Bunbury raved about his first experience with the senior squad.
"It was an amazing experience,” he said in a statement provided by US Soccer. “I was thrilled to get an opportunity. My teammates really helped and got me ready for the game. I've never experienced an atmosphere of that magnitude."
Now the challenge for Bunbury is making it back into future camps in order to build on his first international appearance. The first opportunity will come in January, a gathering that Bradley has used in previous years to bring in new faces and evaluate players on the fringe of the first team.
"Getting my first cap means a lot to me,” Bunbury said. “I feel honored and privileged. Being here opened my eyes to what it takes to compete at this level, and it makes me motivated to work hard to get back here."
Vermes, for his part, believes Wednesday’s match is just the start for his young striker.
“I thought for him it was a great debut,” he said. “I’m very happy for him and very excited for the US national team because I think we have solidified a big-time player for the future.”