UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — After Wednesday night’s performance with the United States national team, it would seem a natural fit that Juan Agudelo would return to the Red Bulls and automatically be slotted into the starting 11.
In the midweek 1-1 result with Mexico, Agudelo made a smart play in positioning himself well on a throw-in to feed the ball to teammate Brek Shea, beginning the sequence that ended with the ball in the back of the net. While Shea’s exploits with the ball will get all the attention, it was a veteran move by the teenager Agudelo that initiated the goal.
“I thought I made a pretty experienced move,” Agudelo said. “[Because it was a throw-in] there was no offside.”
Though he’s just 18 years old and in his first full year as a contributor in MLS, Agudelo has already established himself as a national-team regular. And with new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann now in charge of the US, Agudelo has a man in charge who understands scoring goals. Klinsmann, after all, scored 47 times for Germany, including 11 in World Cup play.
“A great coach,” Agudelo said of Klinsmann. “He’s given me a lot of confidence.”
Agudelo's national-team exploits, however, contrast with his recent play in MLS, where he's been on a bit of a downward trend. He has failed to score since a July 6 win over Toronto FC, when he came off the bench for a brace. Since that 5-0 stomping, the Red Bulls have scored just three goals in six league games.
New York have dominated several of those games, but the results haven’t been coming.
“I feel like we need to be more direct,” Agudelo said. “Twenty-five consecutive passes doesn’t score you a goal.”
Whether the confidence Klinsmann instilled in the young striker carries over from Wednesday night, or even if Agudelo gets the chance to show, it is a different matter.
On Thursday after training at Montclair State University, Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said that Dane Richards is a possibility to start up top with Thierry Henry for Saturday's home match against Chicago (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). That means that Agudelo, who spent the middle part of the season on the bench behind Henry and the now-injured Luke Rodgers, would be on the bench yet again.
But it's not because Backe is displeased with Agudelo. The coach commended the youngster's constant hustle, hard work and improvement.
“I think, compared to last year, yes [he’s improved],” Backe said. “He’s solid in the way that he’s been playing.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer