KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Teal Bunbury may not be lighting up highlight reels or forcing his way back into the national team picture just yet, but he’s finally starting to feel like he’s back in the swing of things.
After going 772 minutes without a goal in league play since dropping a spectacular brace in Vancouver, a stretch that lasted the better part of four months, Bunbury now has two goals in his last two games.
And while neither strike was particularly attractive in a superficial sense, they were still the first precious drops of rain following a prolonged drought. Has that left the 21-year-old striker with the distinct feeling that he’s getting close to rediscovering his form as Kansas City prepare to take on Seattle on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online)?
“Point blank,” Bunbury said, “the answer is yes.”
More importantly, Bunbury also emphasized he’s done looking backward after enduring what could easily be described as the most difficult stretch of his young career. His focus now is squarely on Sporting Kansas City’s final 12 games and making the best of a trying season.
“My teammates have been very supportive, and they’ve helped me get through some tough times,” Bunbury said. “I’m just looking forward now. I’m not trying to talk about what’s been going on. The past two games I’ve felt like I’ve had a couple good performances, but I’ve got to look forward to the next game against Seattle.”
But despite all that lip service, it’s clear that Bunbury hasn’t forgotten what it was like coming back down to earth after an offseason filled with plaudits and preseason preparations centered around turning 2011 into his breakout year.
The campaign started emphatically with three goals in his first two appearances, but steadily went downhill from there. He eventually lost his starting spot to rookie C.J. Sapong and found his lack of productivity and new role a trying experience in light of his previous success.
“It’s only natural at times to get frustrated that I’m not doing my job the way I’m capable of doing it,” he said.
Fortunately, those setbacks only strengthened his resolve, according to Sporting manager Peter Vermes. Instead of sulking as his minutes dwindled and his production dried up completely, Bunbury rededicated himself on the training field.
He took on extra finishing drills. He kept his fitness sharp. He laid the groundwork for his play over the past week.
“When you are a player and you go out of form a little bit, it’s all about how you work,” Vermes said. “He’s worked every day, and he’s worked very hard.”
And when Bunbury got his opportunity to shine against New England a week ago as a late substitute, he took his chance, tying the game in the 89th minute — on his own bobblehead night, no less.
That earned him a well-deserved start against Real Salt Lake, which resulted in another goal and left his teammates delighted to see his hard work finally pay off and yet another dangerous weapon back to the arsenal.
“I’m so happy for Teal to be back on form,” Graham Zusi said. “He’s been working so hard. You can see he got a little frustrated to be honest, but he’s kept at it and it’s showed in his play recently. He’s gotten a couple big goals for us.”
Now, the task is to keep that going.
“I’m looking to score more and just help contribute to my team and keep winning games,” Bunbury said. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s not all about me. If I’m scoring and we’re winning, I’m happy. If I’m scoring and we’re losing, I’m not happy.”