Countdown to First Kick: 6 Agudelo takes 2012 head on

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign. 

6 – Goals by New York's Juan Agudelo in 2011

Juan Agudelo spent 2011 vacillating somewhere between scintillating, a wunderkind on the brink of taking American soccer by storm, and inconsistent, relegated to fleeting minutes off the bench as New York sealed an MLS Cup Playoffs berth.

After announcing himself in November 2010 with a spectacular goal for the US against South Africa on his international debut at just 17 years of age, the teenage forward kicked off his first extended MLS season with more of the same. He scored a spectacular winner against the Seattle Sounders during the 2011 edition of First Kick, then, just two months later, scrambled in the game-tying goal against Argentina at Giants Stadium just miles up the coast from where he grew up.

24 under 24: Juan Agudelo

But it wasn’t all good times and glowing plaudits for the Colombian-born, American-bred prospect. He played just 71 minutes in the Red Bulls final six regular-season games, and stayed rooted to the bench in the playoffs before logging 26 minutes in the 2-1 defeat to LA that ended New York’s season.

All told, he put away six goals in 27 appearances (12 starts) for the Red Bulls, but rumors spread that the then 18-year-old striker’s training habits had come in question, confirming that he still had plenty of work to do to earn a regular place in Hans Backe’s starting XI.

That hasn’t kept New York and US supporters from calling for more playing time for the talented youngster in 2012. At this point, though, there is certainly no guarantee he’ll get it.

Agudelo is still working his way back from an ankle knock, and if he does improve on the 1,364 minutes he played last season, the young forward have to beat out yet another challenger. Rather than stay pat this offseason, New York traded for the mercurial Kenny Cooper. Luke Rodgers, Backe’s default first choice to partner Thierry Henry, is expected back as well, although he still has visa issues to iron out.

The good news is that even if Agudelo has trouble approaching MLS field time in the quantities some might prefer, it's entirely possible 2012 could be just as promising as 2011 turned out to be.

He is likely to be the centerpiece of the US Olympic team’s attack heading into this month’s qualifying tournament and on into the London Games should Caleb Porter’s side advance. And if Agudelo performs well there against his international peers, he could very well follow in the footsteps of another hometown striker from New York to European shores.

Even if a move doesn’t materialize after a winter spent training with VfB Stuttgart and Liverpool, he will still have an opportunity to fight for and earn minutes on a Red Bull squad once again expected to be near the top of the Eastern Conference.

And maybe that’s what Agudelo needs: a little more time to harden, more time to grasp the lifestyle of an elite professional, more time to absorb the lessons the legendary Henry has to offer.

Only time will tell.

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WATCH: Agudelo on his time with the Olympic team