Teal Bunbury interview: In the round with the Boys in Gold – Nashville forward flows on in Music City
Be it experience, virtue, or indeed the attacking impact he has delivered recent reminders of, Nashville SC gained plenty when acquiring Teal Bunbury. The burgeoning club’s characterful and obvious appeal side, there are many more reasons why he and Music City were probably always bound to be compatible.
Eight years is a long time in a game – particularly in Major League Soccer – so often characterised by ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ With last December’s trade to Nashville SC, Teal Bunbury departed New England Revolution as fourth in their all-time scoring list (47 goals overall), though the popular forward and his young family’s East Coast farewell tugged at various strands of deeper significance that stats could not convey.
As Tennessee called, it meant that the former Sporting Kansas City man was cast in the role of new kid at a club for the first time since turning 24. Ten months on, and with the season’s crunch time now immediately up ahead, he is part of a team embarking upon playoff action for the third year out of three since their arrival in the league.
Beneath that, though, what has he been witnessing in motion, at just the third club of a 13-season pro career?
“It’s one of the best, and I would be straight up, I feel like I’ve been around long enough and wouldn’t have to conjure something up,” he explains. “Coming from New England, we had a really good locker room.”
“I come here, there’s a lot of veteran guys on this team who’ve been around the league for a long time. It’s a new club, this is its third season, and they’re just doing everything right here.”
Theirs is an expansion team with a unique backdrop, of course, in a place with a world-famous creative heart, where dream-chasing takes top billing. Beyond merely paying homage to the ‘Music City’ it calls home, the club have embedded it into their fabric from the outset.
A signature feature of home games has been the 30-second ‘Gibson Guitar Riff’ to shred away the final moments before kick-off. Playing to the crowd on a 1968 Les Paul Hero customised in club colours, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Styx’ Tommy Shaw, Chris Isaak (virtually, while games went without fans), and John Oates (Hall & Oates) are among the names to have done the honours since Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale opened the tradition back in March 2020.
Kickoff, the Music City way 🎸
Way to shred that @gibsonguitar Riff, @DaveMustaine 🤘#EveryoneN pic.twitter.com/eOQRnHk2Fp
— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) April 18, 2021
Supporters have also played their part, with the club’s second annual Riff Off winner Bill Worrell stepping up for the recent regular-season closer against Houston Dynamo. On an alternative timeline, Nashville’s number 12 might also have joined the party.
“When I got to Kansas City, when I got drafted, I said, ‘I’m gonna learn the guitar,’” Teal recalls. “Took two classes and was like, ‘Yeah…I guess I don’t wanna do it!’”
His family’s footballing heritage is by now well known, as Teal and father Alex became the first father-son duo to play in MLS, with both winning MLS Cup in their respective spells in Kansas City, 13 years apart. Hamilton, Ontario-born, it was Prior Lake, Minnesota that Teal would come to call home, after a childhood which included living in London and Madeira, as the family followed long-time ex-Canada forward Alex’s career with the likes of West Ham United and Marítimo.
Then there is Teal’s sister Kylie, the older sibling by just 13 months, whose acting career has increasingly blossomed in recent years with roles in acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us, action-comedy film Game Night and others. Younger brother Logan, meanwhile, has set about carving his own path, as a rapper.
While their respective interests have sometimes overlapped – 17-year-old Mataeo is another pursuing soccer, currently with the USL Championship’s Birmingham Legion – music was the one that subtly but most consistently connected all three of Teal, Kylie and Logan growing up.
“Being around my sister and my brother, just so many memories of different types of music we listened to. Listening to them trying to sing or rap when they were younger, it’s always fun to bring back up when we’re all together.
“My sister can play the guitar really well, she even has a little ukulele, and she’s got a beautiful voice. She kind of started her career singing; she would do the national anthem at our high school or certain events.
“She got really into singing and she’d go to the studio as well in Minnesota, so her first true love was wanting to be a recording artist. She went a different direction but she still loves to sing.
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“I wish I had a good voice – I don’t! My brother was always into hip-hop.
“He played soccer too but he got into music, and I’m really proud of him, because his craft is trying to write lyrics and he’ll be in the studio non-stop. He lived in LA for a long time, him and his buddies started their own record-production company.
“He’s done some shows in Minnesota and he makes really good music, and great music videos, so it’s really cool to see.”
As a University of Akron player in 2009, Teal was the recipient of the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy, with teammate and current Columbus Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe emulating him the following year. Alongside ex-Houston Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie, their ‘official’ Zips welcome included coming up with a song – dance included – which had to be showcased in front of the girls’ soccer team.
If ever there was a club where the widespread, initiation-song ritual, known to strike the fear of a thousand Erling Haalands into many players, should be a firm fixture, Nashville is surely the spot. So, is it safe to assume that Teal had to blow the dust off the figurative mic heading into this season?
“I didn’t, because I’m so old,” he laughs. “Because I’ve been in the league for so long.”
“I was ready for it, I had maybe some jokes. I was gonna do maybe like a Sisqo song or something, but I didn’t have to, just because there were so many other younger guys, some rookies, some guys who were supposed to perform it last year.
“So, Sean (Davis) and I actually got lucky and didn’t have to do anything.”
Even if he is feeling like the Grand Ole Bunbury at just 32, school has been in session on a few occasions this season. A four-goal burst began with a close-range, acrobatic finish at FC Cincinnati in July, followed up in each of the next three games, against Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Toronto FC.
Last time out, he was there with the winner as Nashville ended the regular season with a hugely-satisfying 1-0 victory at Supporters’ Shield champion LAFC, as teammate Joe Willis set a 2022 league record of 14 saves in a game. When it is time to get it cooking before kick-off, meanwhile, Teal is there again to help stir the pot.
“I’m on the aux cord of late, and I’ll try to get a little bit of gospel in for us, at least one. Kirk Franklin is renowned for his gospel music.
“I love r&b, old-school r&b stuff. I’m not a huge country fan; there’s a couple country artists that I enjoy, like Sam Hunt, but r&b, gospel, those are my two go-tos.”
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Much like the U.S. team expected to line up next month in the World Cup, the group Teal was part of when he scored his first international goal was one filled with youth and exuberance. Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile were the January 2011 opponents as he put away a penalty to earn a 1-1 draw in Carson, California.
Wearing the armband that evening was his current club captain Dax McCarty, leading with nearly the same uber-enthusiasm as he displayed recently when the Nashville players were asked before training for their favourite music artist: “Surely you guys have better (questions) than that…”
Fear not, though, as such iciness from the much-loved, inimitable midfield dynamo is easily melted away. At the push of a button, in fact.
“Funnily enough, Dax, whenever I put like an old-school Chris Brown song on, more like a club or a poppy one, he gets excited about that. Eric Miller’s always pumping me up when I’m DJing, Handwalla (Bwana) will sometimes get on the aux cord.
“It’s tough to get everybody enjoying the same thing, because some people like EDM, some people like a little techno, so you try and get a good, eclectic group of music. I know that Alex Muyl would play some of his tunes as well.
“I try to get Jack (Maher) on there but he doesn’t want to, he’s always just got his headphones in and he’s always zoning. But C.J. (Sapong), I’ve known C.J. for a long time, he’s always pumping me up.
“His locker’s like two away from me, and every song that comes on, he’ll give it an ‘ooh, okay!’ because I’m usually playing the older stuff. I try to throw it back a little bit.”
The first album he remembers buying was ‘Exclusive’, the follow-up to Chris Brown’s self-titled debut. That was a teenage Teal, but in the interest of truly throwing it back, what’s more 90s than Zack Morris (Zack Morris using a pager?)?
A generation remembers tuning in every Saturday morning to watch Mark-Paul Gosselaar and his Saved by the Bell cronies, though Teal’s sister Kylie is in the rather-more-limited band of 90s kids who grew up and starred alongside him (in drama series Pitch). Life on set with her was a little different back in the old days, as Teal recalls it.
“My sister used to get ready to All-American Rejects. She used to listen to All-American Rejects before we went to school; she would be up early just so she could listen to that and almost annoy my brother and I!
“My parents listened to a lot of different stuff, so I listened to what they would listen to, anywhere from Matchbox Twenty to TLC, to Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson. I’ve lived around a lot of places but grew up in Minnesota, so ever since fourth grade, that’s my home town, home state, and Prince was really big around our house, and obviously big in Minnesota.
“Another big one was when my dad played for Kansas City Wizards. We used to drive from Kansas City up to Minnesota a lot, and on that drive, my mom, that’s where TLC comes in.
“The album ‘FanMail’ was a big album around that time, so we would always be listening to that; some of the songs she wouldn’t play because we were a little bit younger. We were always listening to and jamming to TLC, and Mary J. Blige as well.”
The 2014 season, Teal’s first with New England Revolution, saw the team go all the way to MLS Cup, agonisingly losing out in extra-time (2-1) to LA Galaxy, at the end of one of the most memorable years in his career to date. Among those to start alongside him in that encounter was forward Charlie Davies, who would later be a groomsman for Teal.
Their bond remains watertight, though early on in that 2014 season, the former U.S. international featured on this site, making the following claim about Teal: “He’ll be playing some Jack Johnson or something before a game, so you’re thinking, ‘Am I going to the beach to be around a bonfire or are we going to play a game?!’”
Eight-and-a-half years on, comes his opportunity to address those remarks!
“He’s funny, that’s hilarious. I maybe know two Jack Johnson songs!
“That is a total fabrication, and I love that from him. He was always trying to wind me up, but he would be on (the music in the locker room), Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston.
“More recently when I was there, Andrew Farrell, and even Matt Turner, he was big on the aux cord, he had a lot of bangers. He was more into kind of club techno that I wasn’t used to but I really got a liking for.”
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Nashville’s move into their GEODIS Park home, the biggest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. or Canada, came together in living colour when it hosted its first game, in May this year. A venue that was also designed with concerts very much in mind, the club wanted to base their wider gameday experience around that of a music festival – a variety of amenities and activities on offer, all building toward the headline event.
The club will never have to look too far to pull in talented and willing artists, but in this next scenario, Teal has been elevated to chief decision maker, with the power to select any act from all-time. What’s that, Wayne’s World 2 incarnation of Jim Morrison? If you book them, they will come?
“I would love to see Earth, Wind & Fire, maybe in their prime. Growing up listening to them as well, and my wife’s favourite song is ‘September’.
“I think that would just be a really cool experience, soulful, and just gripping that time period really. It seems like such a fun band and group.”
While it is the ‘song-writing capital of the world’ where he currently resides, originality is out for the moment here, as he is asked for a cover track he would record, with any teammates from his career!
“That’s a tough one. I would love to do one with Andrew Farrell, because he’ll give his all, he’ll be 150 per cent committed, regardless of if his voice is just awful!
“Matt Turner, because he really thinks that he’s a really good singer, and he’s not, and I love saying that! So, it’d probably be us three, and maybe we would do some throwback song.
“Trying to think of what song we could get at. Maybe some Creed song, and then mix it up into something like a Drake song, mash them together.”
Music remains a huge touchpoint in his life, connected to times when he felt good, and all the differing pieces that signify ‘home’ in one form or another. He feels fortunate to have gone through his career to date without ever losing the sense of happiness beneath what he does, even when sidelined with a knee injury for the best part of a year at 22.
New England’s leading scorer in 2020, he was part of the best regular season in MLS history the following year, as the Revs racked up 73 points. Short of MLS Cup glory, the question of what constitutes success for clubs across the league is an ever-intriguing one.
An expansion team making the playoffs in each of their first three seasons, while not the extent of their ambition, is an undoubted fillip for Nashville, who have also been proudly revelling in the feats of Golden Boot winner / MVP hopeful Hany Mukhtar. The Boys in Gold travel to face LA Galaxy this Saturday (15th October), and however much further there is to run on their season, collective spirit will not be where they were found wanting, Teal believes.
“In particular, the locker room, there’s no egos, guys really care about each other. Guys have thick skin, so we can kind of get at each other.
“The banter’s really good, and I think that’s what makes a good locker room, being able to be light-hearted enough but know when it’s time to work. Really always having that caring feeling as well, that, ‘Hey, we are all in this together.’
“There’s a time to be ready for work and there’s a time to be like, ‘You know what? Let’s just mess around a little bit, it needs to be a little bit more light-hearted.’ The chemistry is really good here.”
There have been no reports of a locker-room mutiny in the Bunbury camp either, despite the potential of one recent addition to rock the boat! Teal, wife Kaity and daughters Sienna and Shaye welcomed son Shy on 27th August, so has it been any easier at all the third time around?!
“Yeah, I mean, my wife does everything, I can’t be more grateful, she’s just our supermom. It makes my life so much easier, to be able to wake up and go to training.
“It gets a little bit easier, for sure, because our oldest is four-and-a-half, then we have a two-and-a-half and now a new-born. My family being there, even if I have a bad day at training, I come home, I realise, ‘Okay, I was kicking a ball around, how important is that, when I’m home now with my girls screaming my name and just wanting to hang out and play?’
“That stuff just gives me perspective.”
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Twice named the club’s Humanitarian of the Year while with New England, community outreach remains important to him. His general downtime as a father of three naturally differs from that of his early career – mostly, that is.
“If I do have time, I love to game a little bit; I love playing Destiny or (Call of Duty) Warzone or something. I’m also into – it’s a quirky little thing – I’m into magic, so this summer I took an online class.
“David Blaine was having this class, it was like a month-long class of learning card tricks and other things like that. It’s a weird thing I’ve always had since I was young, I used to do magic shows for my parents, but it’s kind of just a hobby that I really enjoy.”
His chances of pulling jokers out of the pack are only increased in this regular closing question. Without the pressure of needing to define a ‘best’ four, the interviewee is asked for a sample selection of their career teammates to go alongside them in a small-sided line-up, with the emphasis on those who would simply guarantee entertainment value.
Teal’s suggestions might mean alternating goalkeeper duties, but here is the rest of the Funbury Five (What? They’re refusing to play under that name?).
“Who would make it fun? Andrew Farrell, number one, he’d make it fun.
“If we’re messing around, sure, but he’s all business. So, as much as I want to have fun, he’ll take it seriously, so he’s on there.
“Charlie Davies, he’s like my brother, so I need him there to really have the enjoyment. Who else would be there?
“I’m trying to spread it out. Most recently I played with him, but Carles (Gil), because he can really have a good time and he’d be our little talisman.
“Then Darlington Nagbe, so that would be my group. I think that’s a really strong crew right there.”
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