"I'm feeling really good," declared Teal Bunbury after practice Monday. "It's been a long, long nine months of rehab and team mates giving me a lot of support, trainers being unbelievable, fitness coach Mateus (Manoel) working my tail off. I feel like I am really close to being 100%."
Whether Teal Bunbury gets on the pitch tonight or just on the bench, his comeback from last August's season-ending ACL tear is almost complete. Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes confirmed to reporters that barring any last minute issues, Bunbury would be in the eighteen for Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match with Orlando but would not be starting.
Vermes also confirmed that he would like to get Bunbury some minutes prior to their next MLS match but "it would depend on how the game goes."
"When you are coming back from an injury like that, the biggest thing for you is that you have to get hit a couple times and you've gotta give a few hits and you have to feel that your good and you can take it," explained Vermes. "You have to get over that mental aspect, it's not the physical at that point, it's the mental."
First contact in training.
When asked about any worries or hesitation with contact, Bunbury felt he was ready. "It (training) was just like second nature, like riding a bike really. You just come back. I thought the first tackle I would stop and pause but I've been in a few tackles and hadn't really thought about it twice. The cutting, my biggest barrier a few months ago was getting over that mental barrier of cutting, since then I haven't been apprehensive or anything."
Teal's injury did not come as direct result of contact, it was the way he planted his leg as he was moving the ball up field. "It was all about the planting, just planted weird and it just went the wrong way, It wasn't a contact thing so that may be why contact hasn't worried me," observed Teal.
When coming back from long injuries, fitness and mental toughness are always mentioned but often it is a players touch that lets them down as they get in games. "I've still got some more to go but I thought it (his touch on the ball) was going to be a lot worse than it has been," said Bunbury. "I've been doing a lot of technical work with my rehab so that has helped me out a lot to be able to meet the standard of when I was coming back and now in full training to be able to do a lot of technical work with the ball while not involved with full training has really helped speed up the process of having my touch fully there."
Teal also credited his many days of practice since he was little kid also, "You never lose the muscle memory unless you go fifty years and even then you still know how to play."
Finding playing time
Vermes sees Bunbury and most of his forwards all competing for spots across the entire front line with the possible exception of Bieler. "Everyone of those guys, outside of Bieler because that's his position, that is where he plays the best and that is what he's made for, all of those guys can move around. I'm not stuck on those guys and they all have pretty good versatility,"explained Vermes. "Last game when CJ (Sapong) when up front we went to a 4-4-2, we have the versatility to play a lot of different systems and play a lot of players in different places."
Teal has played wide with Sporting KC but his best success and seemingly his natural spot is center forward. "Bieler's been doing an amazing job and that is my preferred position obviously. When I first got here they tried me out wide a little bit, I think they realized that my main position is that center forward role so I think I will be fighting for that spot."
No loan option
Despite the fact it will be tough battle for playing time, Bunbury does not want to go on loan to Orlando.
Bunbury was clear in his desire to stay with Sporting Kansas City. "I would rather stay here and fight for the playing time here. No disrespect to Orlando, four of our guys are down there and doing an amazing job. Dom is scoring goals left and right and I feel it is really improving their game. For me personally, I would like to stay here and work with the guys here, push myself with the guys here and try to take my game to the next level."
"If it's my decision, Teal Continued, "then I would like to stay here with my team mates, travel with them and be in the daily grind, get my chemistry back with them after having be away for so long. Chemistry's the biggest part of it for me, working with the midfielders: how my movements are, how their movements are, how we think together."
Vermes agreed there would be no loan, "The biggest part of his progress is making sure that medically, he's where he needs to be," Vermes detailed. "Our guys have been with him since the beginning. To now hand him to someone else who doesn't know what all the progress has been and what we're looking for, just from that perspective alone, it would not be good."
I'm ready to go!
Watching Bunbury in practice the last couple weeks has been entertaining. Towards the end of practice on Monday, Bunbury had a strong, physical battle with Aurelian Collin for the ball. Bunbury won that battle, took the ball and threaded a pass through the defenders, across the goal to a team mate running on to the back post.
Bunbury at his best is speed with a little bit of edge to him. The desire to get back on the field, the long wait, may give him that edge for good while once he does start playing regularly.
"I don't know what Peter is going to do but to get on the bench, get a minute, anything to get back on the field. It's been nine months and I really have a new found passion for the game. I'm just excited to contribute to the team. It could be five minutes, it could be ninety, whatever it is, I'm ready to go."
"I'm ready to go," Teal repeated with emphasis.