For the first time in four years, Teal Bunbury is getting an extended run of games at center forward.
He’s responded with the best goal scoring run of his career.
The New England striker has five goals in the Revolution’s last seven matches, a period in which he’s emerged as one of the most important pieces on of the league’s more surprising teams. Despite entering the year as a popular pick to miss the playoffs, the Revs have gotten off to a solid start under first-year head coach Brad Friedel. They currently sit in sixth in the East with a 5-3-2 record heading into Saturday’s home game against Columbus (7:30 pm ET | ESPN+ - full TV & streaming info), six points ahead of seventh-place Chicago.
Four of New England’s five wins this year have come since Bunbury started his scoring run on March 31. The 28-year-old attributed his hot streak to a variety of factors, but he pointed to consistently starting at striker as perhaps the most critical.
“I think it’s a lot of different things, but I think consistent playing time is obviously a big factor,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone earlier this week. “You could plug in a few years in my career where I didn’t consistently play the No. 9, or I wasn’t playing as many minutes as I am now, and obviously I think that plays a big part in it.”
Bunbury began his career as a center forward in Kansas City, recording three successful seasons for the club and earning four caps with the US men’s national team before tearing his ACL early in 2013. He was traded to New England the following February and started his Revs tenure as a No. 9, but he was moved to the wing less than two months into the 2014 season.
He spent the better part of the next four years bouncing around the field. Ex-Revs head coach Jay Heaps played him on the wing and up top, and, in 2016 and 2017, moved him and out of the starting XI. The lack of consistency made it difficult for Bunbury to get in a rhythm.
He’s found new life this year under Friedel. Apart from the first few minutes of their season opener at Philadelphia, Bunbury has played nearly every second of New England’s season at center forward. He’s a good fit in Friedel’s high-pressing system, harrying opposing defenders when they’re on the ball and making good, dangerous runs when the Revs are in possession. Those qualities were at the fore in Friedel’s decision to move Bunbury to striker.
“Defending is not the glorious side of the game, it’s not the side of the game that fans openly like to comment on, it’s not the side of the game that journalists openly comment on, but it is a very important part of the game and Teal’s willing to put the work in on that,” Friedel said. “Now, you also have to work extremely hard to keep a ball, and that’s something else that Teal is willing to do. When you have the physical attributes to do it and the mentality to continue to do it, that’s always a good sign.”
Of course, it doesn’t exactly hurt that his finishing has been on point. Bunbury is outperforming his expected goals by a significant margin, a good measure of how efficiently a striker is finishing. His solid form in front of net and his seemingly secure starting role in his “true, natural position” of No. 9 has Friedel feeling good about Bunbury and Bunbury bullish about his future.
“We’re really happy with his output. We’re really happy with a lot of players’ outputs, but with sports, the most important game is your next one, so we’re expecting another good one from him this weekend and to carry on. But up to now we’re very, very pleased and we hope it continues for the entire season.”
“I honestly feel the best that I have felt in terms of fitness, in terms of endurance, in terms of where I’m at in my head,” added Bunbury. “I’m grateful for everything I’ve gone through in my career. Whether it was professionally, collegiately, I think all those things, different injuries here and there, playing, not playing, fighting for starting spots, I think all those things kind of helped me get to this point where I feel at peace and I feel that I’m ready for anything that comes my way.”