KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A couple of months ago, Teal Bunbury received a surprise phone call.
On the other end of the line was US national team manager Bob Bradley, who offered some encouraging words for the Kansas City rookie, but stopped short of making any promises.
“[Bradley] was just letting me know that I had been on his radar and he liked the way I had developed and matured throughout my rookie season,” Bunbury said in a phone interview on Thursday. “He just let me know that some things were coming up, but he didn’t know anything for sure. … I was just focused at that point with the Wizards and kind of brushed it off.”
That conversation came flooding back one week ago, when Bunbury got another surprise phone call. This time it was national team administrator Pam Perkins, and this time it was for sure.
The 20-year-old striker, fresh off a rookie campaign for the Wizards in which he scored five goals and dished out two assists, was going to South Africa as a member of the US roster poised to take on the Bafana Bafana on Nov. 17 in Cape Town.
“I was pretty shocked,” Bunbury admitted.
He wasn’t the only one.
[inline_node:319564]Though Bradley’s hand-picked roster includes a handful of uncapped prospects – Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Gale Agbossoumonde and Mikkel Diskerud – Bunbury’s selection may have been the most intriguing of the bunch.
Born in Ontario to a Canadian father (former Wizard and Canadian international Alex Bunbury) and an American mother, Bunbury was raised in Minnesota but suited up for Canada’s youth national teams.
This year, though, he turned down the advances of his birth nation to focus on establishing himself as a professional in Kansas City.
Although many thought the decision about his international future might wait until later this offseason or beyond, that debate likely ended Thursday. The revelation that Bunbury would represent the US polarized opinions on both sides of the border.
Bunbury, who said he made the decision based on his desire to play in a World Cup and upbringing in the States, indicated his decision is permanent even though he won’t technically be cap-tied if he plays against South Africa.
“It was definitely a personal decision,” said Bunbury. “It was nothing against anybody. Ultimately, it came down to my discretion. I feel like people have to be accepting of that.
“If anyone is put in a situation like this, they are going to try to pick the best thing possible for their career and themselves as a person,” he added. “This was just what I felt was right for me as a player, person and everything else.”
That’s not to say Bunbury doesn’t recognize the uphill climb that awaits him as he attempts to establish himself in the US setup coming off his first professional season.
He may have started just 13 games, but Kansas City’s first round 2010 MLS SuperDraft pick showed glimpses of the potential that prompted Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to label him a “handful” following the Wizard’s 2-1 exhibition victory in July.
“Obviously, it’s just a call up,” Bunbury said. “For me this is just the beginning of something and there are a lot of unknowns going into it.
“I’ve got to showcase myself and prove to Bob Bradley and the rest of the coaching staff that I should be an intricate part of the team and that I should be a part of later camps and later matches,” he added. “It’s all business when I go down there. I need to make an impression. I’m not taking it lightly.”
That’s a mindset he inherited from his father, and one he hopes will guide him as he embarks on his first foray with the national team.
“My attitude ever since I was young has been that I want to be the best that I can be,” Bunbury said. “That has to be a mentality to not settle for mediocrity and go for excellence every time you can. That’s the attitude I am going to bring into South Africa, and we’ll see what happens when I get down there.”