KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Teal Bunbury was lounging on a hotel bed in New England ahead of a game against the Revolution when a text message from his agent delivered crushing news.
Seattle striker Steve Zakuani, one of Bunbury’s best friends and his former teammate at the University of Akron, had suffered a broken leg, the result of a reckless challenge from Brian Mullan. It hit Bunbury like a ton of bricks, a mix of disbelief and concern that gutted him emotionally and prompted an immediate text to his fallen friend.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” Bunbury said. “I still to this day haven’t looked at the tackle. Unfortunately in the game of soccer, things like that happen.”
And although Bunbury won’t have the opportunity to line up across from his college teammate and mentor as Sporting take on the Sounders on Saturday night (10 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), the connection between the two will be front and center in the young striker’s mind this weekend.
The two already text back and forth most days and talk on the phone once or twice each week, and Bunbury said he and Zakuani planned to spend Friday night hanging out and catching up over a bite to eat and some quality time at Zakuani’s Seattle apartment.
It’s a far cry from where each thought they would be, leading their sides’ attacks in crucial years for their respective careers. But it’s not about soccer for Bunbury at this point. It’s about being strong for a friend who needs his support.
“He makes me proud,” Bunbury said of Zakuani. “He is definitely a role model, he’s one of my mentors and best friends. When people go through situations like this, their true colors come and you get to know them even better. With Steve, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still that faith-bearing guy who knows his purpose in life and knows what he has to do to get there. This is just a minor setback in his career and his life. It really is inspiring.”
And even though it was soccer that brought the two together initially, that bond has strengthened.
Bunbury credits Zakuani for helping him connect with his faith during their time at Akron, and it’s that foundation in large part that has brought the two even closer as professionals.
So even though it’s difficult to see his friend forced to overcome such a traumatic injury at such an inopportune time in his career, Bunbury knows Zakuani has the mind set and support needed to push through the tough times, throwing himself into rehab and waiting for the day he makes his return to the field.
“It’s really tough,” Bunbury said. “He had a lot of things going for him. But he has his head on straight, and I know he has a lot of support here in Seattle and across the world. People are showing support and praying for him. He’s doing his best in rehab and doing his thing. He’s not dwelling on it. He’s not feeling down or sorry for himself.”