HARRISON, N.J. – It’s the one conflicting sentiment in American soccer circles surrounding 18-year-old New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo: Is he really a star, or are we really too anxious?
On Tuesday, the reactions of his high-profile teammate Thierry Henry and Red Bulls GM and sporting director Erik Solér made it clear that both just might be true.
“We’re not going to tell anybody that he’s a star – he’s not,” Solér said of Agudelo, who has more goals in his career with the US national team (two) than with the Red Bulls (one). “He’s a young kid, playing some good soccer at times, but other times playing not that good. He needs time and we’re going to give him a lot of time.”
Henry’s comments, however, were indicative of the excitement surrounding the Colombia-born teenager, who made his first start with the US national team in a 1-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday night in Nashville, Tenn.
“There’s never smoke without fire,” Henry said. “The guy is a beast. He’s going to become our go-to player, the way he’s been playing at the moment and the confidence he has.”
[inline_node:332385]Still, the prevailing popular thought on the Red Bulls academy product has been one of caution. There seems to be a fear that his run of success in recent months could make him simply flash in the pan if his skills aren’t nurtured in the right way.
“I’ve been in the soccer world as a professional, as a player and manager and owner for 33 years,” Solér said.
“I’ve seen this in Europe hundreds of times. Kids play a few good games, big team signs them up and they’re gone. And 10 years later they are in the English third division.”
The former Norwegian international – who has been at the helm of the Red Bulls for over a year – said the club has a long-term plan for Agudelo.
“We only have one agenda at Red Bull,” Solér said. “That is to take care of Juan Agudelo, develop Juan Agudelo over the next years. Make sure that he does not go anywhere too early or to the wrong spot. He’s a great place to be here. We are going to take care of him. We’re going to give him a good education.”
Henry mentioned that he thought to call Agudelo to congratulate him on his goal against Argentina but decided against it. He noticed from the television broadcast that he was already being pulled in different directions after the final whistle. The Frenchman didn’t want to contribute to the frenzy.
“The only thing I have to ask you guys is to leave him alone,” Henry said in comment directed at the media members on hand for an All-Star Game press conference at Red Bull Arena. “I’ve been there and it’s not easy to deal with people running after you. Just remember that he’s young and he has all the talents, and we’re going to help him here to be the best he can."
Despite the warnings issued by Henry and Solér, both expressed confidence that Agudelo is on the right track.
"He really wants to learn and he wants to be a good player," Henry said. “I’m so happy that we have him because he’s going to be a very important player for us.”
Solér cited Agudelo’s “strong character” and his mother, “a great lady who tells him what to do and what not to do.”
“I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it,” Solér said. “But it's our responsibility because he’s still a very, very young man and he has no clue about what’s awaiting him if he continues this way.”