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Bunbury’s snub cuts deep

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Teal Bunbury in action for the University of Akron during the 2009-10 season.

Writing about international soccer is so very different than writing about club soccer.

When writing about the professional game, it is so much easier for the writer to pull away from the topic, to look at a team’s bright spots and its warts with an objective eye.

But when it comes to the international competition, how can one divorce himself or herself from national pride? That’s why this column is coloured when I state that Teal Bunbury made a horrible decision. A wrong decision. On Thursday, he committed himself to the United States national program, another Canadian to join a rogues gallery inhabited by the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Jacob Lensky and Asmir Begovic.

A Canadian-born striker, son of one of Canada’s best-ever players — Alex Bunbury. Teal should have been a natural fit for our national side.

When I first contacted the younger Bunbury, I did it to present the story of a young Canadian who was performing so well at the NCAA level. Bunbury was in what would prove to be his final year at the University of Akron; and he was on his way to winning the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy as the top player in American collegiate soccer. He would go on to be taken No. 4 in the MLS Superdraft, going to the Kansas City Wizards, the team for which his father once played, albeit at the twilight of a great career.

“My dad doesn’t say much about it, but I am pretty confident that I am staying with the Canadian team.”

That’s what Bunbury said when I asked him if he’d ever think of defecting — after all, he had already represented Canada at the U-20 level.

While he wasn’t 100 per cent committed to Canada, I left that chat confident that Bunbury wasn’t going to leave the program; that his birth country — and the jersey so proudly worn by his dad — would win out.

But then came Bunbury’s refusal of a senior call-up when our MNT took on Peru and Honduras in early September. And then more word of a snub of the Canadian U-23 camp, now going on in Florida.

Bunbury’s barbs were on the back burner — after all, the drawn-out will-he-or-won’t-he saga between Brampton, Ont.-born Blackburn Rovers winger Junior Hoilett and the Canadian Soccer Association was more of a storyline during the September call-up period.

But now, it’s obvious that, with just a year of Major League Soccer’s worth of pro experience, Teal Bunbury’s focus had changed. I had taken the kid’s sort-of pledge and expected he’d come through. I had forgotten how often this scenario had gone wrong for the Canadian Soccer Association in the past.

I am left wondering how different the scenario would have played out had Toronto FC, which didn’t have a first-round pick in 2010, would have been successful in its quest to trade up and get Bunbury. There was no way Toronto FC could hide its interest in Bunbury, and there was a strong push by Reds’ supporters to bring such a Canadian jewel home. But, team officials at the time strongly hinted that other teams in MLS were looking to prise goalkeeper Stefan Frei away from the Reds in exchange for high first-round picks — and that was never going to happen.

Had Bunbury spent his first pro season in Toronto rather than Kansas City, would he have turned his back on the CSA?

It is just a friendly. He can still change his mind. It won’t happen, though.

So, even though I made no bones about supporting the U.S. soccer program in the 2010 World Cup — after all, successes by CONCACAF teams looked good on the region as a whole, and would help Canadian soccer — and would gladly back an American bid for the 2022 World Cup over any other applicant, I think my American friends understand if I am smarting a bit. So, that when I write that I hope the American program doesn’t win a game for a decade, that Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have earned every bag of pee hurled at them at Azteca Stadium, and I swoon about how much worse off MLS would be without the huge swell of Canadian fan interest, that soccer fans south of the border understand I am feeling jilted.

After all; Teal Bunbury just broke up with my country. And blood runs thicker than water.

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