Moments after news broke last August that Juan Agudelo had signed a pre-contract with EPL side Stoke City, the immediate question became this: Who would fill the role of target man in 2014?
Sure, Diego Fagundez (13 goals, 7 assists) and Kelyn Rowe (7 goals, 8 assists) would still find their share of chances, and thus, the offense wouldn’t be rendered completely helpless. But without Agudelo around, uncovering those opportunities wouldn’t come as easily for the dynamic duo.
With that in mind, the Revolution braintrust set their sights on a striker this winter, and after weeks of searching, they pulled the trigger on a trade that brought Teal Bunbury to New England for a 2015 first-round pick and an undisclosed sum of allocation money.
“We’ve been very open about our desire to add some additional attacking players to our roster ahead of the season,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a team release on Wednesday. “We believe Teal is a player who can make the sort of impact we need.”
Through his first four seasons in MLS, Bunbury, 23, has scored 19 goals and collected seven assists in 89 games for Sporting Kansas City, who selected him fourth overall in 2010. While those stats won’t “wow” many, the hope is that Bunbury, like Agudelo before him, will benefit from a change in scenery and showcase the skills and abilities that made him an intriguing National Team prospect not too long ago.
Bunbury was drafted out of perennial NCAA powerhouse Akron -- dubbed “MLS University” by many -- in 2010 projected as a “can’t miss” pick, a talented striker brimming with potential at the pro level.
He didn’t exactly set the nets on fire in his first year, a season in which he collected five goals and three assists in 26 games for Kansas City. Even so, Bob Bradley, who was U.S. Men’s National Team manager at the time, saw enough to give Bunbury a run at the international stage. Before 2010 concluded, Bunbury earned his first cap with the U.S. in a friendly at South Africa -- coincidentally, a game in which Agudelo scored his first international goal.
The young striker’s star grew brighter in 2011 when he scored nine goals and added three assists in 29 games. And 2012 brought even more promise when he tallied five times by August.
But on Aug. 26, 2012, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a game against New York. After 10 months of recovery, he returned to the pitch in June 2013, only to re-emerge as a shadow of his former self. He struggled to find playing time with designated player Claudio Bieler above him on the depth chart and C.J. Sapong taking the reins when Bieler slumped. Bunbury managed to find playing time in only 12 games in 2013, and it appeared his future with the club was in serious doubt.
Enter the Revolution, who were looking to fill the gaping hole left by Agudelo’s departure. Like Agudelo, Bunbury is a big-bodied (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) target man, though few would consider him a battering ram by any means.
Even so, Bunbury’s experience within a single-striker formation -- the formation of choice for Peter Vermes in Kansas City -- should make the transition easier. The Revolution, who use the 4-1-4-1, were looking for a pure target man in their hunt for a new forward, and appeared to have found him Bunbury.
What Bunbury lacks in physicality he makes up for by flashing sound attacking instincts and deceptive speed. He’s a finisher, but can just as a well find a teammate when the walls close in. And with Fagundez and Rowe buzzing nearby, he’ll find plenty of opportunities to score and set up goals in New England.
“He’s a talented, young player who can add a dynamic element to our system,” Burns said. “We’re looking forward to getting him into camp and integrated into our group as soon as possible.”