In keeping current pace with what has really become "Teal-Day" here at The Daily Wiz, well...I don't really need an introduction. Let's just talk about Teal's national team call up and commitment some more.
If you are a Kansas City Wizards fan, a United States national team fan, or a Canadian national team fan, and you've somehow been living under a rock and managed to miss Thursday's news of Teal Bunbury's call up into the US national team's upcoming friendly against South Africa, check here for the details and come back to this once you're up to speed. Also, for those that may have missed it, Teal had some pretty strong comments about the US and Canada; check those here.
Now that everyone should be up to speed, I'd first like to send out a bit congratulations to Teal on receiving such an honor, and for all of the hard work he has put into his career to this point. I have no doubts whatsoever that he will continue doing what got him here.
As I briefly hit on shortly after the announcement was made, it was a combination of factors in play that made this call up possible: US head coach Bob Bradley choosing to omit nearly all regular European-based players, the MLS playoffs gobbling up a couple more forward options, and the fact that this friendly really means practically nothing to the United States' international standing.
So, concerning not only the present, but the future, as well, how bright do Teal's prospects with the US national team, for both club and country?
First of all, playing time in Kansas City next year isn't quite a given birth right for Teal. Late in the year, head coach Peter Vermes often preferred Birahim Diop to Bunbury at the center forward spot, at least to start the game. What will come of Diop's starting role, or even his place on the KC roster next year, is as great a mystery as anything. So, for argument's sake, we'll assume that Teal, as he should with further development and experience, will leapfrog Diop in the pecking order.
The Wizards will also add forward Omar Bravo from Chivas de Guadalajara as the team's lone designated player (so far) to the squad in January. Suddenly, we are back at four forwards vying for three starting spots. (Ryan Smith and Kei Kamara being the other two, of course.)
Where Bunbury excelled in 2010, at least late in the season, was coming off the bench around the 55th to 65th minute and just absolutely blazing by center defenders that were not only already at a pace disadvantage to Teal, but also had 55 to 65 minutes drained from their tanks. Teal scored two of his five 2010 goals coming on as a second half substitute. It was no coincidence that he came on at key points in the game, and helped to earn the team a pair of leads, and ultimately victories, that they did not have before his insertion to the game.
At least to the start the 2011 season, I imagine he will occupy some sort of role similar to second half difference maker. With adding Bravo, I honestly can't see him being the guy to come off the bench regularly, what with the money invested into his designated player status. Kamara led the team in goals with 10 this year, so it would be difficult to justify taking away his starting spot for anyone. And, Smith is just an absolutely different type of player than anything you see anywhere in MLS, a game changer at any moment, so he will occupy the very wide expanses of the new stadium's left wing.
I honestly do not think that is a terrible thing at all for Teal, though. An offseason national team call up and the publicity that will go with that could get to the head of even the most modest of footballers, which to his credit, Teal certainly seems to be. Eventually, though, I can't imagine him not working his way into the starting XI with some regularity.
He also finds himself in a similar spot depth-wise with the United States. There are names that carry far greater weight with Bob Bradley, and for good reason.
So, the really big question is what a reasonable timetable in regards to Bunbury's standing within the national team would be.
Jozy Altidore will not be unseated as the first choice striker unless David Villa and Didier Drogba are suddenly granted international transfer allowances to join the Yanks. In other words, it's not happening. Edson Buddle has also done well to assure himself a fairly secure spot in any future rosters, and with his continued performances in the MLS playoffs, on top of his 17 league goal season in 2010, rightly so.
After Altidore and Buddle, though, is where things start to get slightly less clear cut. So much so that I put out a quick call to anyone on Twitter Thursday night to rank the top eleven US forwards (not including Teal) from first choice all the way down to last at the present moment. Really, beyond Altidore and Buddle, no two people could give the same answer, because in truth, not even Bradley knows beyond that.
Based on the average ranking of each forward in the current player pool, it came out a little something like this: 1. Altidore, 2. Buddle, 3. Herculez Gomez, 4. Eddie Johnson, 5. Robbie Findley, 6. Charlie Davies, 7. Chris Wondolowski, 8. Brian Ching, 9. Justin Braun, 10. Conor Casey, 11. Juan Agudelo. My own personal opinion ended up being just about that, for the record.
Currently, I would rate Teal just below Brian Ching and just above Justin Braun in that list. So, ninth out of a dozen. Equivalent to third out of four, right where I would rate him among the current crop of Wizards forwards.
Much like his situation with KC, it would be semi-logical to expect Teal to rise up past a couple-few others within the next year or so. Ching is 32, and strikers don't often get better at that age. In his early years, though, Ching makes Bunbury cry, "Uncle!" Conor Casey has had a fair number of chances with the national team, (20) but has never really stuck for long periods of time. Add in the fact that he's almost 30, and now doesn't look to be the time for that to change.
So, we'll say a year down the road, only by default, he's moved past Ching and sits eighth on the list. Many believe, and I happen to be one of them, that Robbie Findley will never be a consistent contributor at the international level, but with pace that he possesses, he'll always be considered. (Interestingly, of the six people that responded quickly on Thursday night, Findley peaked as high as number two on one list, and as low as number ten on two others. What do you do with someone like that?)
While he can't match Findley step for step in a foot race, Bunbury certainly would satisfy Bradley's desire for a quicker strike partner to join Altidore, given that he reaches consideration level for a place on gameday. 99 percent of America would have replaced Findley with someone slightly slower but with on-ball skills in the World Cup if such a player exisisted. The other one percent lives just west of the Rockies.
No one on the face of the earth has a legitimate idea about the health and future of Davies. When healthy, he often tops even Altidore as the best forward on the field. While everyone hopes for his sake, and for the success of the national team, that he gets back to something similar to his previous form, there's just too much uncertainty to rate him against Bunbury's expected developmental trend.
Eddie Johnson's national team standing is much like Casey's, subtracting a couple years in age. He's had 42 appearances with the senior team, but similarly to Casey, he has yet to state his case for a regular roster spot. Within the next couple years, he could rise or fall as far as number two on the list, or tumble halfway down it. I would say that by the age of 22 or 23, Teal should be able to play at the level of EJ-present day.
To be fair, projecting anything beyond a year or two is as much making stuff up as saying DC United will win MLS Cup this year. So, for the time being, I feel fairly confident in saying that Teal's progression through the US forward ranks should be wished upon with a bit of caution, but I am keeping my hopes up that he learns to capture moments of brilliance as a rookie in 2010, and sustain that form for long periods of time for both the national team and the Wizards.
In the short term, if Bunbury makes his first appearance for the US next Wednesday, as he should, and isn't called back in for an extended period of time, don't sound the fire alarms just yet. The fact remains he's still only 20 years old, and the upcoming slate of national team fixtures will get increasingly more important over the next six to eight months, and that perfect storm that brought about this call up will quickly dissipate. Rumored friendlies with Chile and Argentina in January and March respectively are sure to garner squads of far more regular national teamers. And, unless Teal amazingly nets himself a 30 minute hat trick next week, he will likely not be included, which will certainly mean he won't be a part of the CONCACAF Gold Cup next June.
No worries though, for this is an extremely exciting time as a fan of Teal, the Wizards, and the United States of America. I have faith in you, Teal. I know you'll do us all proud.