Edson Buddle was in the form of his life leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
SEATTLE — As Edson Buddle trained at the StubHub Center during his offseason as a member of the L.A. Galaxy in 2010, he watched the United States men's national team's annual January camp. He didn't have any inkling that just five months later, he would be representing his country at the World Cup in South Africa, the first player Landon Donovan ran by in celebration after his instantly famous goal against Algeria.
"What happened to me, nobody saw that coming," Buddle, now a Colorado Rapids striker, told SI.com after a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. "That's the thing with the national team: Anyone can be called because there are so many Americans. It's not like one set team. It gives room for conversation, which is great."
Just one goal away from becoming the eighth player to hit the 100-goal milestone in Major League Soccer history, Buddle reflected upon forcing his way onto the World Cup bubble -- and eventually the final roster -- four years ago and what it meant for his career.
"Sports is about timing. When I started scoring goals at that moment, it was just a timing thing," Buddle said. "I was fighting for a place on the team [in L.A.] — it always starts there — and I was scoring goals for my team, and it led to the national team. When you're a striker, and you're scoring, you're more confident, and that helps. The fans believe in you a little bit more."
Galaxy fans had plenty of reason to be confident in Buddle early in the 2010 season, as did U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. In L.A.'s first five games of the season, Buddle scored eight goals. It took until that fifth game for somebody other than Buddle to score for the team.
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The tumult of the striker position on the U.S. squad was such that Buddle got called up for the World Cup in South Africa despite not being invited to the January camp. His four multi-goal games to kick off the MLS season catapulted him over the likes of Conor Casey, Brian Ching and Jeff Cunningham on Bradley's depth chart, and he made the World Cup roster along with fellow in-form striker Herculez Gomez.
"Coaching selections are out of my control, so all I can do is control my preparation. That's what I always say," Buddle said. "I find ways to stay in the league and survive. I've seen a lot of people come and go. People talking about you, good or bad, still makes you relevant, so I must be doing something right if I'm here so long."
Buddle, who scored his 99th MLS goal in the Rapids’ 1-0 win over Toronto FC on April 13, used his World Cup inclusion as a springboard to Europe. He signed with the 2. Bundesliga's FC Ingolstadt in January 2011, where he encountered a soccer culture like he hadn't experienced up to that point.
"[The World Cup] kind of helped me get over there. It wasn't a club that had high interest in me," he said. "There are a lot of players out there. In preseason, they train three times a day. I wasn't used to that, but eventually, I became accustomed to it."
Buddle adapted quickly enough to score on his debut. In his one year there, he scored nine goals in 31 appearances. Despite only playing half of the 2011-12 season, he was tied for the team lead at the end of the year with Stefan Leitl, scoring six times in 820 minutes of playing time.
Ingolstadt released him in January 2011, though, and Buddle returned to MLS after a week-long trial with Everton. He couldn't get a foothold in his second stint with L.A., and he moved to Colorado before the 2013 season.
Now, Buddle is truly a veteran at 32 years old, and he is with his fifth MLS club. His experiences with the national team and in Europe have left him confident in what American players can do on the global stage.
"It's not like American players are so far behind, because the American players that have gone [overseas] and done well. They went to middle school, they're not in these factories of academies," Buddle said, "and we still flourish. It made me believe more in the American player. That being said, there's a bright future for soccer in this country. This league, I don't think it's going anywhere for a while."