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Father, Son: A Second Nation for the Second Bunbury

Teal Bunbury is making a habit of jumping Canadians.  (AbelImages/Stringer, from Getty Images)
Teal Bunbury is making a habit of jumping Canadians. (AbelImages/Stringer, from Getty Images)

For the last two days, I've been hanging out in my old hometown of Victoria. I spent time with friends and generally had a ball, which obviously meant I didn't get much blogging done. However, on Wednesday night I did sit down in a coffee shop to try and get an article written. The plan was to publish it on Thursday morning, but it was not to be. I plucked at it for a few hours but was unable to write it the way I wanted; I was tired and a little drunk. So I saved the draft and decided to return to it another day.

It's a good thing I didn't publish it, because the title of that article was "Why Teal Bunbury Could Still Go Canadian", and that very morning Bunbury proved me an idiot.

When I said Bunbury could still wind up in Canadian colours, I wasn't speaking from emotion. I rated Bunbury the fourth-best American striker eligible for the 2012 London Olympics. By all appearances, both Teal and Alex Bunbury are smart folks. I thought they surely wouldn't abandon the Canadian national setup for a fling with the United States that is almost certain to end in international obscurity. Instead, just over a year after left back Jacob Lensky abandoned the country of his birth, the son of one of our greatest players and a Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer has done the same thing.

Teal Bunbury is, of course, American in any non-soccer sense. Though born in Hamilton, Ontario, he grew up in Minnesota and has an American mother. Bunbury's entire soccer career has been spent south of the border. His American credentials are impeccable. On the other hand, he did give barefaced lies to John Molinaro and Ben Rycroft about his international intentions when it suited his career. He took advantage of Canada's youth systems and, like Lensky and Asmir Begovic before him, used the limited soccer resources of his false homeland without giving anything back in return. I know I have readers who are fine with athletes taking advantage of anyone and anything in order to advance their own interests, but (you're not going to believe this) I disagree. On the other other hand, he didn't actually see that much action with Canada's youth teams: he played less than an hour for our U-20 team in his career. He's not Asmir Begovic in one very important sense: Begovic was the poster boy for our youth program for years but Bunbury played too infrequently to even be considered a bit player.

No, I don't hate Teal Bunbury. He lied to our reporters, but I was twenty years old once and I sure said things I didn't mean and later regretted. In a later appearance on It's Called Football, he was much more open about his intentions. Bunbury is, of course, a soccer traitor, and I hope he suffers a catastrophic career-ending injury as soon as possible. But it's nothing personal; strictly business. The Americans have called up Bunbury to make sure the Canadians can't get him even if it's terrible for his career. I merely want the reverse.

Bunbury scored five goals in Major League Soccer last year. Playing regularly with a poor Kansas City Wizards team, the traitor put in a decent but by no means overwhelming rookie season. On merit, he wouldn't make the Canadian senior men's team, let alone the American. But Bob Bradley did not pick his roster for South Africa based on merit, he picked it based on experimenting with new players and denying Canada a potential asset. It's a smart move by Bradley even if he thinks Bunbury will never play for him again, because Bunbury is now locked to the United States for eternity. In FIFA terms, Bunbury was Canadian because he's appeared with our youth teams, and the paperwork required to change his nationality can only be filed once. Bunbury is a Yankee now.

There's a chance that Bunbury will be on the American Olympic qualifying team. If I were picking that team, I don't think I would name Bunbury to it: he is on the older end of the U-23 pool and being passed by promising, more talented, and younger strikers like Jack McInerney, Tristan Bowen, and arguably his fellow senior American debutant Juan Agudelo. He's already so far behind Jozy Altidore he'd need an atlas to catch up, and I fully expect both Omar Salgado and Francisco Navas to pass Bunbury by 2012 (early in their careers they are far ahead of where Bunbury was). An Olympic team can only feature eighteen players, of whom three can be overage. There doesn't seem to be room for a minor offense-only goal poacher like Bunbury, unless an Olympic spot was promised to him in exchange for his defection. When I e-mailed Andy Edwards of SB Nation's Kansas City Wizards website, The Daily Wiz, regarding Bunbury, he told me that, in his opinion as somebody who watches the Kansas City Wizards more than any of us would consider healthy, "at this point, having watched him for a year, he's not ready to play at that level," but if his game did improve to an international level "the US gets him."

The reason Bunbury chose the United States was because he thought he had a better chance of playing in the World Cup. Of course the United States has a better chance of qualifying than Canada; only the blindest Canadian homer would suggest otherwise. But the Americans are also hugely unlikely to take Bunbury into the World Cup with them. It's true that the United States is having some short-term problems with depth at striker and that mediocre players like Robbie Findley are sometimes used while the likes of Jeff Cunningham get international callups. But I don't need to flex my imagination to think of under-30 American strikers that are miles ahead of Bunbury: Findley, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Hercules Gomez, Chad Barrett, Chris Wondolowski, Conor Casey, those young players I mentioned above... and those are without counting veterans who will be too old to help in 2014. Is Teal Bunbury even in the top fifteen American strikers in the world today? Barring some borderline miraculous improvement in his ability and his career trajectory, how can Bunbury dream of making a United States World Cup roster against that competition?

Even if Canada has only a one-in-eight chance of qualifying for a World Cup in Bunbury's playing career, Bunbury has a lot worse than one-in-eight odds of cracking the United States World Cup lineup. If Junior Hoilett turns Canadian, I'm not sure Bunbury would crack a hypothetical Canadian World Cup team in 2014 (definitely Jackson and Hoilett, probably at least one of Haber and Uccello and very possibly both, probably one of Gerba and Friend... we're filling this roster up in a hurry). Before his last year of college, Bunbury was a reasonable but by no means remarkable prospect. He got a tonne of playing time in Kansas City and responded with a few goals of the "that really shouldn't have been let in" variety. To put it bluntly, and to risk the appearance of sour grapes, Teal Bunbury just ain't that good.

Bunbury cannot return to Canada, and if the United States winds up not wanting him that would mean the end of his international career. He could, perhaps, have asked a fellow countryman for advice. Vancouver Whitecaps left back Alain Rochat was born in Quebec to Swiss parents and moved to Switzerland in infancy. As such, Rochat was eligible for either Canada or Switzerland's national teams. Canada was interested but Rochat chose Switzerland because he felt they had a better chance of competing in major tournaments. If they did, it was not because of Alain Rochat: he played one game for Switzerland in World Cup qualifying against the Faroe Islands. That was in 2005. Since then, Rochat has been excluded from every Swiss roster. He was cap-tied, Switzerland made sure he was available to them exclusively, and then he no longer mattered. As a result, the talented Rochat has one cap with Switzerland instead of a dozen with the country of his birth. Joining the better team isn't as good a plan as joining the team you can make.

So why would Bunbury jump ship into such hazardous waters? Because he's twenty years old. He's a professional soccer player, and like most professional soccer players he's certain of his ability. He has no particular emotional attachment to Canada. He's surrounded by American teammates urging him to defect, and getting phone calls from American coaches sweet-talking him into dreams of glory. Meanwhile, Stephen Hart is offering serious call-ups to Canada but Canada has not participated in a World Cup in Teal's lifetime. Like many confident young men, he took the enormous risk and went for what he perceived as the "glory" of playing for the United States in the World Cup. A lot of young adults have made decisions like that in their lives. Soccer does not alter human nature.

I think that, ultimately, is why I don't hate Bunbury, even as I am aghast at his decision. Who among us hasn't thought more of ourselves than we should have and gotten ourselves into trouble as a result? After all, we were all twenty once and we all made mistakes. Bunbury's is merely a mistake on the international stage.