KANSAS CITY, Mo. – More than a few eyebrows were raised when Wizards striker Teal Bunbury’s name was included in the squad that Bob Bradley will bring with him to South Africa
But Kansas City manager Peter Vermes wasn’t among those surprised by Bunbury’s call up earlier this week. In truth, Vermes had already been campaigning for Bunbury as a viable future option at forward to the only pair of ears that truly matter.
“Bob Bradley and myself had a talk awhile back,” Vermes said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I made a pitch to tell those guys that I thought [Teal] was a serious candidate for the team for the future and someone that they should keep their eye on.”
Turns out Bradley and his staff were paying attention. The Wizards 20-year-old striker was given his first call-up with the senior national team just weeks after his rookie season ended.
[inline_node:320731]What Bradley saw in Bunbury are the same things Vermes saw before he drafted the Akron striker with the fourth overall pick in last January’s SuperDraft and what he’s observed all season in training and games.
“I think [Teal] has some very special qualities,” Vermes said. “I know everyone knows that he is a very athletic guy, but he also combines both quickness and speed, which is unusual. Not a lot of guys have both.”
“He’s pretty good with both feet. His pace is definitely something to deal with, and he’s very explosive and strong in his power base. He combines a lot of things, and he has a nose for the goal, no doubt. He’s extremely hungry to score. I think when you put all those things together and the fact that he is extremely mature, that’s a pretty deadly combination.”
Although Vermes would probably admit he brought Bunbury along slowly at first, the reigning Hermann Trophy award winner gradually found his place in the team, scoring five goals and assisting on two in 13 starts and 26 total appearances.
And although his performances were impressive in their own right, Vermes said he was just as impressed with and encouraged by Bunbury’s mental approach and dedication to the game during his rookie season.
“His work ethic is good, and I think he is learning to get better with that,” Vermes said. “I also think he evaluates his own situation and play pretty well. When you ask him to talk about his last game, he usually has a very realistic evaluation of that. Not one that’s delusional. I like that about him. That he can really self-evaluate, and he’s honest about it. I think that leads to growth as a soccer player.”
Clearly, the young striker still has a long way to go to entrench himself in the national team set up, but Vermes thinks Bunbury may just have the right mix of physical ability, talent and drive to play a part in the team for years to come.
The first step in that process comes in the coming week, a chance Vermes believes Bunbury will be prepared for both physically and mentally.
“It’s hard to make it to the top,” Vermes said. “But it’s a lot harder to stay there. It’s one thing to get your chance – and I think Teal is very smart in this regard – it’s another to see what you do with that opportunity.”