Teal Bunbury “lost” to the USA? It’s not that simple

Let’s make one thing crystal clear, first off: Teal Bunbury is not the “next” anybody.

He’s not the next oft-injured Englishman, or the next Dutch-but-maybe-Canadian-after-all midfielder, and he’s certainly not the next bench-warming Bosnian goalkeeper.

But he is a Canadian-born kid, son of a Canadian soccer legend, who has accepted a call from the USA, to play in their friendly against South Africa next week.

I won’t lie, my reaction was a hearty “ah, shit”. And, understandably, the announcement has prompted plenty of consternation (not to mention ad hominem attacks) from Canada’s most ardent supporters.

This may not be the end for Teal Bunbury and Canada, though. In fact, oddly enough, it may just be the beginning.

Now, there are some people who will say “to hell with Teal, good riddance, if he isn’t 100% committed to Canada, then we don’t need him anyway!”

If you are one of these people, I’d ask that you stop for a moment, and examine why it is that you follow the Canadian men’s national team.

I can only assume that it’s because you’d like to see them qualify for the World Cup, yeah? Of course. Unless you’re just a weird masochist, there’s no other reason to emotionally invest in such a squad.

So we need to be coldly realistic about this: We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Tomasz Radzinski — 46 caps and 10 goals for Canada — has been one of the top performers for our national team over the past 15 years and, by all accounts, loves donning the maple leaf.

But if his native Poland had come calling at some point, he may have answered the call. Hell, Stephen Hart specifically put Radz out there for Canada’s friendly in Poland last autumn as a “send off” — a recognition that while Tomasz was obviously a proud Canadian, he hadn’t severed his ties to the land of his birth. He was simultaneously a proud Pole.

It would be positively wonderful if Canada were flush with talented young players who were not only plying their trade in the top leagues across the globe, but who were also unequivocally and enthusiastically dedicated to representing Les Rouges on the international stage.

But that’s not the world we live in. Things are never that simple.

In a globalized world, questions of national allegiance are very rarely cut and dried. Jonathan de Guzman, for instance, is a Canadian-born kid of mixed Jamaican and Filipino heritage who has represented the Netherlands internationally… oh, and whose brother plays for Canada. Talk about a mental mosaic.

But Teal’s case seemed simpler — we assumed he was “destined” to play for Canada, by virtue of his lineage, and having been born on this side of the border.

Anyone who’s spent any time as an adult should know that “destiny” is bullshit. Your life is what you make of it, for good or for bad.

Now, the part of the story that will chafe the hides of many Canadian supporters is that Teal “took up space” in our youth program, depriving some other Canadian kid of that spot. But to be angry about this assumes that Teal, as a teenager, was maliciously manipulating our system in order to… what, avoid the rigors of the American youth setup? Get into bars more easily up here?

There’s nothing to suggest that, as a kid, Teal didn’t actually have dreams of wearing the same jersey his father did. But then he gets drafted into an American league. He’s surrounded by teammates — Jimmy Conrad and Kei Kamara spring to mind — who, it’s been suggested, were in his ear about making the “right” choice.

The “right” choice, in their mind, had nothing to do with playing for the same country as his father did. The “right” choice was to represent the country where he’d have the best chance of making the World Cup.

So Teal hears all of this chatter from his professional teammates. Then he finds himself sitting around this summer, during the MLS break, and sees the hysteria that sweeps the nation when Landon Donovan pots the late, winning goal for the Yanks against Algeria. I’m a Canadian fan, and watching replays of that goal gives me goosebumps. So I can only imagine what would go through the mind of a kid like Teal, who’s confronting the possibility (albeit slight) that four years down the road, he could be part of a moment like that.

Yeah, I said slight possibility because, here’s the thing… Teal Bunbury has plenty of potential, no question. But he hasn’t done anything yet to justify being on the World Cup roster of any country. He scored five goals in 25 appearances for the Kansas City Wizards in his rookie campaign.

Five goals in MLS. I don’t think Clint Dempsey needs to be watching his back just yet. Hell, neither does Ali Gerba.

Now, as I said, he could develop into something. He could develop into an American player of note. Or, he could end up being a player with plenty of potential (who got an inordinate amount of press on this side of the border, due entirely to his last name) that never quite panned out. That is yet to be seen.

But Teal hasn’t set foot on the pitch for the USA yet. He may not do so in next week’s friendly. Even if he does, he isn’t cap-tied to the USA and could, theoretically, choose instead to represent Canada.

This call-up could actually be good for the prospects of Teal representing Canada, in a strange way. The sooner that Bob Bradley and the American folks have a chance to evaluate if and how he fits into their setup, the sooner he’ll know whether or not he truly has any future with the American team.

If he does, he does. If he doesn’t, then his only option in international play becomes Canada.

What I’ve just said will be taken as blasphemy by some — because, essentially, I’m suggesting that it’s a good thing if Canada takes the castoffs from other countries, those not good enough to hack it with teams higher up the FIFA rankings than we are.

To that, I go back to my question: Do you want a team full of yippy-skippy, gung-ho Canadians who’ve never set foot outside these borders, and would never dream of representing another country? Or do you want Canada to have the best possible chance of qualifying for the World Cup?

We can’t have both. So I choose the latter.

If Jono de Guzman wants to come back home because he wasn’t good enough to make it with the Netherlands (who made the finals of this year’s World Cup, in case you forgot), welcome him back. If Teal Bunbury gives it a shot at making the American squad (miles ahead of us in most ways imaginable, when it comes to men’s international soccer), and he can’t, and decides he’s going to play for Canada instead… I’d welcome him back too.

Am I advocating a fully mercenary approach to our national team? Not quite. But if we hope to compete with every other footballing nation on the planet, we need to open our eyes and accept the reality of the global game for what it is.

Also, folks, remember that Teal didn’t choose to accept this call-up as an affront to you personally. I know, it’s easier for you to get upset when you imagine him, or JDG2, or whoever else, cackling evilly as they dream up new ways to screw over the long-suffering Canadian footie fan.

But in reality, each player with the talent to make (or potentially make) an international squad has a hell of a lot of things to consider — and a hell of a lot of external forces pulling them in all sorts of different directions. All we can do as Canadian fans is hope that Stephen Hart is able to pull together the best players he can who are willing to represent this country (whether it’s their first, second or fifth choice).

The idea of Teal Bunbury following in his dad’s footsteps is a nice, romantic story. And it may yet happen. But it won’t have happened because of fate or destiny or anything else.

Like any of the rest of us, Teal’s life is going to be what he makes of it.


10 Responses to “Teal Bunbury “lost” to the USA? It’s not that simple”

  1. David Holmes Says:

    I doubt Kei Kamara was whispering in his ear to make the “right choice”. Kei chose to play for Sierra Leone, his home country. Also, Teal has spent most of his life in the life. So its not like he just decided to pick the prettier option. Being in KC for one year probably wasn’t entirely what made him change his mind. As he has matured and started to move out of his father’s spotlight, I think he’s starting to feel less pressure to be like his Dad. As he said, he had a sit down with his father over this.

    But overall, I think you brought up some very good points.

    • Yeah, about Kamara, I threw his name in there mostly because of a tweet he sent out earlier today: “Am so proud of my Mate @TealBunB for getting the call up to #USNT. Sure Canada don’t like it but these r choices we hav2 make 4 us sometimes”

      • Kamara is the most annoying player in MLS. More annoying than a Portuguese diver. And this has nothing to do with the Bunbury situation.

  2. In the US Teal would have a better chance at not only making the World Cup but a legitimate chance to have success in it as part of the USMNT. However he could end up being only a depth player or a player that is constantly on the fringe of a call up.

    Canada doesn’t have the talent the US does and Teal would likely play a much bigger role the setup. Teal has a much better chance to score a goal like Donovan’s to send Canada to a World Cup than he would with the US. Canada offers Teal a much better chance to be a player that people will remember in 30 years than the US.

    Overall Teal can do what he likes and I would be nearly as disappointed as in any previous traitors.

  3. Fucker. I have no problem with Teal playing for the US if he had played for them since throughout his youth career. What pisses me off is he said he would play for Canada, and he abused our youth system. Oh and Squizz, I don’t take the latter. People don’t just watch sports to see their team win. If they did, #1 people wouldn’t watch TFC and #2 painting a wall would become a sport(it’s easy and takes little effort). People watch sports because they like the sport, not because they want to see their team win every time AT ALL COSTS.

    • that’s the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard. every soccer match you watch, you expect your team to win. that’s why you support them. I watched the world cup fully expecting the USA to take it all this time around…obviously that didn’t happen..we didn’t win it..this time. 2014 is a whole other try..and quite frankly..I will be hoping for USA to take it all..

      If you seriously watch soccer and hope for a loss, or even a draw..i hope for the sake of the culture of the sport you do not call yourself a supporter..

      people play to win, or they wouldn’t play at all.

      maybe up in Canada you have your shit twisted..but clearly both players and supporters expect to win…at all costs..

      And in Teal’s case..are you gonna sit on your thumbs waiting for a call from Canada that might never happen? or are you gonna take a shot and give it a try when the USA says “hey come play in this friendly..lets see if you fit”

      • Kevin Smith Says:

        I mostly agree, but there is a caveat. If your team loses/draws prevents your rivals from winning a championship, then it’s okay-ish. For example, as a Liverpool supporter, if the title came down to ___ and Manchester United, and the final game was between ___ and Liverpool, I’d probably slightly cheer for ___ just to keep the title out of United’s hands.

        As for Teal’s case, I’m pretty sure he already got the call from Canada. He turned it down to “focus on his club team”.

      • @american

        You’re an idiot. I never said I hope my team draws or loses. I always hope my team wins. But I don’t expect my team to win every game. I didn’t expect TFC to beat Real Madrid last year. I didn’t expect TFC to win in Seattle this year. I didn’t EXPECT Canada to beat Argentina. The thing that makes sports great is the UNPREDICTABILITY. If I knew my team was going to win every game there would be no point in watching the game.

        I also don’t watch the game ONLY to see my team win, I watch it because I love the sport. If my team wins, but the game was boring/crap I’m not going to be very happy. That’s why when TFC wins the MLS Cup(don’t laugh) I will be happy, but the play on the field will have to get better for me to stay as interested as I once was.

        Yes you’re right, people play to win the game, but if it’s not fun and entertaining there’s no point in playing it.

        And if you seriously expected the US to win the World Cup you need to check into a mental hospital. Great job on fulfilling the “dumb American” stereotype.

  4. Old Style Pilsner Says:

    As Kevin said american, Teal turned down three call ups to the full Canadian squad in the last two months, and an invite to the Olympic roster for the London 2012 attempt. So the fundamental part of your argument is flawed. Bottom line is in 10 months Teal has gone from being the ‘Proud Canadian, to I just feel American.’

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