Today, we are looking at Teal Bunbury, who along with Nashville’s attack struggled for the majority of the season.
2023 Grade: C-
2023 by the numbers
Matches played: 38 (T-9th on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 2,188 (12th on Nashville SC)
Goals: 4 (T-4th on Nashville SC)
Assists: 2 (T-6th on Nashville SC)
Goal contributions per 96 minutes: 0.26 (6th on Nashville SC)
2023 in review
At the end of 2022, Bunbury’s numbers were quite positive for a second striker/utility forward. With the CJ Sapong trade and DP forward Sam Surridge not joining until the summer, Bunbury was relied upon as the starting striker for large stretches of the season, starting 21 matches before Surridge got fully integrated.
More games generally mean a dip in statistics, with more opportunity to regress to the mean. With that said, 2023 was a larger drop off for Bunbury than most anticipated. He would bring value to any squad in the league, but depending on him as a starter was not a recipe for success, at least not for Nashville this season.
His strengths in aerial play and work rate put him amongst the best in his position. However, strikers will and should always be judged by their goal scoring.
Three MLS goals in 20 starts and over 1,600 minutes is far from ideal. His 0.69 goals per 90 in 2022 seem like a dream, replaced with a staggering 0.16 in 2023.
Bunbury’s age also seems to be catching up with him. Although physically he is one of the most fit players in Nashville’s squad, his speed and explosiveness have taken a hit. The 33-year-old was often a step behind the other attackers, especially in transition. Not just in speed, but he struggled to find a consistent role within the attack, even when Nashville was firing on all cylinders.
Lastly, his frustration grew further as the season progressed without consistently finding the back of the net. He picked up nine yellow cards (leading Nashville SC) and one red card. Several were “professional fouls,” but for a player of his experience it showed a surprising lack of composure in vital moments.
Nashville SC has an option for Bunbury in 2024, and it would not be at all surprising to see him return to the Boys in Gold. As mentioned above, he’s a valuable member of the squad and works hard on the pitch. With the signing of Surridge, Bunbury should go into 2024 with a reduced role, providing depth off the bench.
Despite fans’ disinterest, Bunbury still has a role to play in Nashville. His ability to do the “dirty work” and be involved in defending set pieces will come in handy when Nashville needs to close out games.
Bunbury has shown throughout his MLS career that he can be a great second option. With Nashville competing across four competitions next season, Surridge will need to rest periodically. Even if other strikers signed to help carry the load, Bunbury can certainly provide competition.
Moment of the season
In a home match against the Columbus Crew, Nashville were looking to extend their unbeaten streak to eight matches. At 1-1, it was Bunbury who put the Boys in Gold ahead against one of the best teams in MLS.
Bonus moment of the season: Bunbury provides a wholesome explanation to his “turtle” celebration.