CARSON, Calif. – Immediately after Chile scored to take a 1-0 lead against the United States national team in Saturday night's friendly at the Home Depot Center, a murmur filtered through the pro-American section of the crowd. The noise had nothing to do with the goal, and everything to do with the removal of two sets of warm-ups.
Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury (above) were getting ready to enter the match.
FULL MATCH RECAP: USA 1, Chile 1
At the hour mark, the pair replaced a tiring Brek Shea and Chris Wondolowski, who fought gamely but failed to make much of an impression in a lone striker position that doesn't suit his strengths.
The two forwards almost immediately had an impact. Although it took the Americans another quarter-hour to equalize – with Bunbury converting a penalty kick drawn by Agudelo – the US side looked instantly more dangerous.
Bob Bradley noticed.
"They seemed to both be into the idea that when they came on the field, they needed to make a difference," the US manager said in a press conference after the match.
Agudelo and Bunbury each earned his first cap against South Africa, and they've developed a strong bond since then. The 18-year-old Agudelo, who won that game when he netted his first goal, jokingly says he wouldn't be surprised if they were brothers. His strike partner, just two years his senior, mirrors that thought.
"On and off the field, our chemistry is going," Bunbury said. "We hang out a lot, off the field. On the field we try to work off of each other. We're always trying to push each other and make each other better. I think that really showed tonight."
Bradley is trying to keep his youth movement grounded.
"There still a lot of things that need work," the coach said. "A lot has happened quickly for both of them, but hopefully we can keep moving them in the right direction.
Bradley is smart to shield his forwards from too much success, too soon, but they have produced in two straight second-half appearances. Sporting Kansas City striker Bunbury came on after 45 minutes against South Africa in November and had a couple excellent chances before tiring, while New York Red Bulls starlet Agudelo roofed a shot off a brilliant pass from Mikkel Diskerud.
Call it the audacity of youth. Neither man is afraid to take a player on one-on-one, or even a couple players, as Agudelo showed when he split two defenders Saturday night and earned a penalty kick on the HDC field. Not to be outdone, Bunbury flicked on a ball with the outside of his right foot, a nice piece of skill that was ambitious if not entirely essential.
And that, of course, is the point: They are developing, but they need seasoning and experience. They will make some mistakes, such taking an extra touch or trying to beat a defender when a simple pass would suffice. They aren't there yet. Not even close.
But that flash they show, that's excitement. That gets fans on the edge of their seat, screaming. Any moment something amazing could happen. How many other members of the national team can claim to have that effect?
One of the biggest problems these two might have? Deciding who gets to take the spot kicks.
"We conversed about it," Agudelo said after the match. "I've been practicing my penalties and I just wanted to make sure it went it. But if [Bunbury] was sure he was going to make it, then I let him take it."
And if – or, perhaps more appropriately, when – it happens again?
"We'll see," he said. "Hopefully. I'm going to run after that ball as soon as I get fouled."
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.com.
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