Sporting Kansas City has brought another high-profile event to the metro area, and no one is happier about it than Teal Bunbury.
Bunbury, a 21-year old forward for Sporting, was delighted when he heard Thursday that the U.S. Soccer Federation and CONCACAF has decided to host the semifinals and finals of next year's Olympic qualifying tournament at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Turns out Kansas City will be one of three cities - along with Nashville and Carson, Calif., - to host the eight-team tournament, which starts March 22. Livestrong will host the semifinal games, which will be played on March 31, and the final, which will be played on April 2. The two finalists will automatically qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
The latter is the primary reason why Bunbury chose to play for the U.S. in the first place. His father, Alex, is a Canadian soccer legend, but Teal - who grew up in Minnesota and played for some Canadian youth national teams as a teenager - is believed to have a shot at making the U.S. men's under-23 national team that will compete in the tournament.
“If it happens, I feel like it would be incredible playing on my home field, having all the fans' support,” Bunbury said. “I don't know if I'll be there, but if I do end up on the squad and we make it to the semis, it would be a great honor to play here.”
It's a positive sign that Bunbury was selected to the under-23 team's training camp currently going on in Duisburg, Germany. However, Bunbury - who was named to the camp roster along with Sporting keeper Jon Kempin - had to reject the invitation because of a lingering ankle injury.
“I'm getting treatment on it right now,” Bunbury said. “I've been playing on an ankle contusion the whole season, and I kept getting hit there, which just made it worse. That's why I need a few weeks to make it heal.”
The tournament is just the latest significant event Sporting has brought to Kansas City since its new $200 million stadium opened in June. The club has hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup and high-profile friendlies involving Newcastle United, Chivas Guadalajara and the U.S. Women's National Team exhibition.
And while Bunbury knows he still has a long way to go before he can experience Sporting's next big event firsthand - he still has to make the team, which still has to reach the semifinals of the tournament - he can't help but think about what the atmosphere will be like, especially given the energy the sellout crowd of over 20,000 displayed Sunday when Sporting hosted the Eastern Conference finals.
“It's going to be ridiculous,” he said. “It's going to be extremely loud, extremely nutsI still get chills about Sunday's game. Another high-intensity game is just going to bring out the best in fans.”