By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ever since Charlie Davies was involved in the notorious car accident that severely injured him, U.S. men's national team head coach Bob Bradley has been in search of a second forward to pair with Jozy Altidore.
Bradley may have found that forward in 18-year-old Juan Agudelo.
For the third time in three games with the United States, Agudelo came off the bench and made an impact, scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Argentina at New Meadowlands Stadium on Saturday night.
The goal happened just 14 minutes after Agudelo entered the match at halftime, which raised the young forward's confidence for the remainder of the game.
"It was amazing because during the game I didn't feel too comfortable," said Agudelo. "The pitch was a little heavy and there was so much pressure (from) Argentina and there was nobody forward because everybody seemed like they were sitting back and defending.
"After the goal I felt a lot smoother on the ball, and it's amazing what a goal can do because it gives you so much more confidence."
Playing in front of friends and family, Agudelo showed a willingess to go at defenders, make runs and didn't seem phased by the stage in which he was playing on. While Agudelo admitted after the match that it was great to play against the likes of Lionel Messi, he showed no signs of nervous on the field, combining well with Altidore in their first 45 minutes of action together.
"For a young player, whenever you put (Agudelo) on the field, you can tell he has confidence," said Bradley. "He puts himself in good positions and when the ball comes, he's strong and he has something where he's looking to try things, things that make sense."
There were moments, however, when Agudelo was a bit overzealous. On one instance, with the Americans fighting to get the ball out of their own half, Agudelo tried to dribble by two defenders on the left flank, only to lose it in the U.S. team's half.
Nothing came of the ensuing Argentine attack, but it was a reminder to Agudelo that he still has much to learn.
"Day in and day out, I try to work hard and I think it's working really good for me because in training I work hard and the players and the coaches recognize that," said Agudelo.
That mentality is what has American fans salivating and U.S. teammates impressed.
"I thought he was good," said Altidore, who after an almost invisible first half as a lone striker came to life with the inclusion of Agudelo in a 4-4-2 alignment. "You see at times that he's still young and getting used to the speed of the game. I think it was a bit fast for him, but he's a confident kid. You see every time he gets the ball, he wants to show himself and I think that's awesome. I think he's improving every day, so he's a very, very talented player.
After the success the U.S. team had with the Agudelo-Altidore pairing, it's possible that Bradley opts to start the tandem in Tuesday's match against Paraguay, which would mark Agudelo's first start for the team.
If Agudelo earns a start from Bradley, the young forward would have more than just another chance to score. He'd also have an opportunity to claim the starting forward spot that Bradley has been looking to fill.