KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Though they are more accustomed to working together as the incumbent young guns of the US national team pool, Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo are getting a double dose of head-to-head competition this week.
Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls will meet Saturday at Red Bull Arena with three points on the line (7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), but Bunbury and Agudelo have a little outside competition in place to up the ante leading up to the match.
With a little help from their respective clubs, the duo are competing to see who can accumulate the most Twitter followers in the days leading up to the Saturday’s game, with the loser wearing his counterpart’s jersey for an entire day while tweeting photos to all their followers.
“I talked to Juan, and he said he was down to do it,” Bunbury said. “I kicked it off with a little tweet, and he responded to it. I guess it’s been blowing up.”
Blowing up is also an accurate way to describe the developments surrounding Bunbury and Agudelo’s standing within the American and international soccer communities during the past year or so.
The two met while taking part in their first-ever senior camp in South Africa last November and developed an immediate connection facilitated by their ages, personalities and understanding on the field. Agudelo scored the game-winning goal against Bafana Bafana, and Bunbury put in an impressive 45 minutes as a substitute to jumpstart each of their respective international careers.
They’ve stayed in touch since, reuniting in January at the national team’s annual extended camp and charting each other’s progress with their clubs in Kansas City and New York.
“I consider him like a little brother,” said Bunbury, who turned 21 prior to the start of this season. Asked whether Agudelo was likely to appreciate that reference since only three years separate the two, he laughed, “Probably not.”
What US national team fans can surely appreciate is the influx of talent and athleticism the duo has injected into a player pool desperately short on forward prospects.
Since the two first teamed up in South Africa, Bunbury recorded his first international goal against Chile in January to preserve a 1-1 draw while Agudelo scored the crucial, game-tying goal against Argentina at the Meadowlands in his home state of New Jersey.
“Those guys are the future,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “They are a new generation of guys that are coming through. I think those guys have a huge ceiling, but they still have a long way to go to get there. That process is ongoing. It’s technically, it’s tactically, it’s physically and it’s definitely psychologically.”
So far, it seems both Bunbury and Agudelo are keeping things in perspective. Bunbury has three goals already this season, just two behind his season total from 2010, and Agudelo has scored two out-and-out golazos for New York as the Red Bulls have climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference early in the season.
Still, both will surely be trying to outdo the other on Saturday under the bright lights of the Big Apple.
“It’s going to be a big stage,” Bunbury said. “Playing in New York is always big. Their stadium is amazing. There’s a great culture and atmosphere there. Everyone is going to be pumped and ready to play.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Agudelo had a slight lead on Twitter, claiming 8,189 followers to Bunbury’s 8,087. Both had also tapped into their respective resources, Bunbury soliciting the support of Chad Ochocinco while Agudelo took advantage of New York’s obvious tie to other Red Bull athletes.
And while Bunbury, true to his competitive nature, said he wanted to come out on top both on the field and in the Twitter battleground, three points would certainly ease the pain of sporting his pal’s jersey for 24 hours.
“[Twitter] is icing on the cake,” he said. “I’m going for the win first, then the Twitter thing.”