Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Of the few players to survive Chivas USA’s offseason overhaul, Juan Agudelo may be the one with the biggest burden on his shoulders.
It might be hard to believe but this season marks Agudelo’s fourth as a professional and with that comes increased expectations. No longer simply a youngster learning MLS, the 20-year-old must now bear responsibility in helping carry a Chivas USA offense that has been decimated and refurbished by mercurial new head coach Jose ‘Chelis’ Sanchez.
“He’s already an international player, but to further his career he needs to win minutes and play good minutes,” Sanchez told SBI. “He’s the player I have least had the chance to interact with because he arrived late (to preseason camp) because of being with his national team and he’s had less of a chance to be with us and train with us.”
That still did not stop Sanchez from relying on Agudelo in the Goats’ season-opening loss to the Columbus Crew, nor did the fact that Agudelo is currently fighting a foot injury sustained in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s friendly with Canada in January (“I’ve been kind of working through that but before Canada, I felt awesome,” Agudelo told SBI.” In the national team camp, it’s probably the best I’ve felt in a while”).
Agudelo came off the bench at halftime to help inject some life into a lifeless Chivas USA attack, and inject he did. Agudelo was at the center of two good goal-scoring opportunities but failed to capitalize on either of them.
Still, it is expected that Agudelo will only get better the more time he has to learn his new teammates’ tendencies. After all, he just lost a majority of the players who he had been playing with since joining Chivas USA last May.
“You never want to see a friend that you’ve been with cool with for about a year go, but it’s part of the profession,” Agudelo told SBI. “Since my first year (and) second year, I’ve seen guys come and go. I still stay in contact with them, but we have good players coming in and (I have) to just get along with it.
“What you have to do is build chemistry with the players and I feel I’m getting along with them really well.”
Naturally, Agudelo has set scoring goals and having assists as some of his goals for 2013 but that is not all that Sanchez wants to see from him. Sanchez, who Agudelo recently described to SBI as ‘good crazy’, is asking the talented youngster to chase and harass opposing defenders when they have the ball in an effort to create more goal-scoring opportunities for the team.
“He just wants me to work up top and defend and try to win balls in the attacking half, so that we’re closer to score a goal,” said Agudelo. “He thinks we’ll get a lot of chances by our forwards working hard and pressuring.”
While enjoying success at the club level is something Agudelo wants in 2013, he is also hoping that good performances with the Goats translates into more call-ups by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. With 17 caps to his name, Agudelo is on the cusp of breaking into the U.S. team and it is likely he will have a golden chance to stake his claim for a permanent role in this summer’s Gold Cup.
Agudelo, however, does not want to get too far ahead of himself.
“It’s definitely in the back of my head every time I play, but I just try to do what I can do with my club and everything with the national team will fall in to place if it’s meant to be,” said Agudelo, who has 17 caps to his name. “But I feel like whatever I do on the field (with Chivas USA) is going to be what will help me make the team.”
Agudelo may not want to look too far into the future, but he does have a big decision looming at the end of the year. Agudelo is currently in the final year of his contract with MLS and will have to decide at season’s end if he wants to stick around a growing league or follow in the footsteps of players like Brek Shea and move abroad.
While all indications point to Agudelo opting for the latter – he has trained in Europe with clubs like Liverpool, Celtic and VfB Stuttgart the past two offseasons and enjoyed it – he is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding his future.
“My motto is just doing what I can do on the field and everything will fall into place,” said Agudelo before continuing, “but I’ve always wanted to play in Europe.”
Due to his age and contract situation, Agudelo will undoubtedly receive European interest throughout the year. MLS and Chivas USA may opt to sell him in the summer to avoid letting him go for free in the winter, but what will drive more teams to want to cough up the necessary dough that it would take to sell him early would be a strong first half of the season.
You see for all of Agudelo’s milestones, he still only has nine goals to his name at the club level, certainly not an impressive number with all thing considered.
That is why performing consistently for the Goats in 2013 is critical for Agudelo, as doing so would be a telling sign that he is ready for a bigger challenge, whether in MLS or Europe.