HARRISON, N.J. — The so-called face and future of American soccer didn’t take the field in Wednesday night’s All-Star Game untill the 81st minute. But when the hometown boy from Barnegat, N.J., entered the match, he brought the crowd at Red Bull Arena to its feet in applause.
But for All-Star head coach Hans Backe, it was a cautionary move to protect a player surrounded by hype from getting too much exposure on a very large stage. Juan Agudelo was an All-Star pick made by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and Backe cautioned the media last week that his teenage sensation might be getting too much traction too soon.
“Just leave him out,” Backe said in the postgame press conference. "Someone else should tell me why I should have to play him. You guys [in the media] make him out to be the No. 1 story. In two years, you will kill him.”
Overexposure of Agudelo is something Backe has frequently tabbed. The Red Bulls head coach has brought his player along slowly, and while Agudelo plays regularly, he often sits behind Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers in the club’s starting XI.
“He’s far, far away being an end product,” Backe said. “He’s miles away. He has to grow his way, take his time.”
It was a brief cameo for Agudelo against Manchester United as he was the second-to-last player that Backe took off the substitute’s bench.
“Finally, let’s get in,” Agudelo recalled him telling himself as he came off the bench. “Let’s see what I can do.”
Watching the game from the sidelines as he stretched and jogged was nerve-wracking stuff for the teenager, who called this probably the biggest game in his career, which includes US national team outings.
“I felt a little butterflies coming into the game — the stadium was packed,” Agudelo said. “So many stars from so many different counties. It was just awesome to be a part of it.”
Agudelo, who has scored five times this year for the Red Bulls, didn’t get a chance to do much, although he did draw a corner kick in the 85th minute after some work down the sideline resulted in Man. United deflecting his cross out of bounds.
“I was just trying to cross the ball, get a little more space,” Agudelo said.
But the night might not be a total loss for the young player, who stated last week that he wanted to walk away from the match with Wayne Rooney’s jersey.
“He might still be in the building,” Agudelo said, looking around. “I might have to stalk him.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer