Darlington Nabge (above, right) was wandering around, lost, looking for the bus back to the hotel at a Midwest Regional ODP camp nearly 10 years ago, and in stepped Teal Bunbury (above, left) to provide a helping hand.
Bunbury, a forward for Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. National Team, hit it off with Nagbe and the two have seen their friendship grow through the youth, college and professional ranks.
“He had some crazy dreads in his hair,” Bunbury remembered of his first meeting with Nagbe. “He was kind of lost after we had a game, he had no idea where to go and he came up to me. Since then our relationship has evolved and I consider him a brother.”
Two of Major League Soccer’s most dynamic young players developed a relationship despite living in separate states (Bunbury in Minnesota, Nagbe in Ohio), and eventually ended up at the University of Akron as freshmen recruits in 2008.
“(Darlington) told me about it (Akron),” Bunbury said, adding that Nagbe committed to Akron as a sophomore in high school while Bunbury was still uncommitted. “It was always in the back of my mind, that I wanted to play at the same college as Darlington. I fell in love with Akron and it helped that Darlington was there.”
“We were roommates in a dorm our freshman year – me, him and (current Houston Dynamo defender) Kofi Sarkodie,” said Nagbe, who along with Bunbury spent many years of his early childhood living abroad as the son of a professional soccer player. “Our sophomore year also, when we moved out of the dorm, we were roommates. It was fun. I have a lot of good memories.”
Aside from being together non-stop off the field, Nagbe and Bunbury helped make some memories on the field at Akron, under the guidance of head coach Caleb Porter.
In 2009, Bunbury won the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman, and Nagbe followed suit by winning the trophy in 2010.
“It was great,” said Bunbury, who had nine goals and three assists for Sporting KC last season. “(Akron teammate and current Sounders FC midfielder) Steve Zakuani should’ve won it before me (in 2008). I was so excited when I won it and then when Darlington won it was amazing.”
Nagbe, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, spent an one more year at Akron than Bunbury, leading the Zips to the 2010 NCAA Championship – Bunbury left as the fourth-overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft following his sophomore year.
Through it all, Bunbury and Nagbe have remained close friends – Bunbury will even be the best man at Nagbe’s wedding in December.
“He’s just a fun guy to be around. He’s always looking for a good time,” Nagbe said of Bunbury, whose father Alex played two seasons with Kansas City (1999, 2000). “He’s a good friend and a good person overall. If you’re down and in a bad mood, he can lift you up and make you feel good.”
Despite being halfway across the country from each other at most times, the two stay in constant contact whether through text or over the phone – staying updated on soccer and life in general.
“I don’t know exactly what it was. We just clicked right away,” Bunbury said. “Darlington is more of a quiet person, he listens a lot. I’m more talkative. Both our dad’s played professionally … our stories were kind of similar.”