MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Juan Agudelo loves Inter Miami, but in a different time might have stayed at New York Red Bulls for life

Juan Agudelo with the New York Red Bulls in 2012

Starring in the New York Red Bulls' academy before becoming one of the league's first big prospects to progress through the new Homegrown Player rule, Juan Agudelo seemed destined for great things at his hometown club.

With the benefit of hindsight, we all know it didn't quite work out that way. Agudelo was traded to Chivas USA at the beginning of his third professional season after minutes became increasingly difficult to come by with the Red Bulls. 

A decade later, the former youngest goalscorer in US men's national team history admits he might still be at the club today had he gotten more chances. 

“I wish it worked out differently," Agudelo told last week. "I wouldn’t have wanted to change clubs. I don’t even know if I would have entertained going to Europe. I did always want to go, but if things went well with the Red Bulls I would have loved to be that full career, franchise player there.

"I think it’s the first time I’ve said it in an interview," he added.

Times were different then, though. MLS's participation in the global transfer market, as well as the academy system, was at its nascent stages. But imagine Paxton Pomykal getting traded to FC Cincinnati or Gianluca Busio being sent to Orlando City merely a season after they began breaking out, still with all the hype swirling around their future.

It was also a different situation for Agudelo. In his breakout 2011 season, after scoring in the club's season opener, he seemed destined to form a strike partnership with the legendary Thierry Henry, only for little-known Englishman Luke Rodgers to siphon some of his minutes up top. Still, Agudelo scored six goals in 12 starts. 

The next season, the Red Bulls brought in dependable MLS forward Kenny Cooper, further complicating Agudelo's path to minutes. That instigated the trade to Chivas. 

“First of all, I needed the trade because of what I felt what I needed for my development," Agudelo said. "I wasn’t getting any love, to be honest, from the coach and GM. But I do wish it worked out differently. Coming out of the academy at a club I was wearing their crest since I was 14-years-old. I represented them when I was at the U-17 World Cup, people knew I was from the Red Bulls academy. Local club."

It's hard to believe that Agudelo is still only 27.

With Inter Miami, he is now playing for his fourth MLS team. Agudelo's time in the league is sandwiched around an ultimately unsuccessful European attempt. Work permit hurdles in the United Kingdom doomed his contract with Stoke City before he had a chance, having agreed to a deal with the Potters for January of 2014 when his MLS contract expired. Before that, a few potential transfers also fell short of completion. 

“I had three situations where (transfers) were scratched," he said. Those moves were Liverpool, Celtic and Stoke's first attempt to acquire him before eventually signing him for free.

“I thought for sure I was going to go to Celtic," Agudelo continued. “It was tough. I don’t know if I would have went to Liverpool and got loaned out, but I definitely wanted to go to Celtic. It was a place I was probably going to play.”

Agudelo was loaned to FC Utrecht in the Netherlands as Stoke waited to apply again for a work permit, which was denied again. After the second try, Agudelo and Stoke mutually agreed to terminate his contract. He returned to MLS with the New England Revolution.

“I was offered a contract at Utrecht as my loan ended, but it was a rough time for me," Agudelo admitted. "I was frustrated that I couldn’t play (for Stoke) because of work-permit and political issues. I wish I was stronger, but I was a kid. I was like, man, I just want to go home.”

Agudelo stayed with New England through the end of last season before eventually signing with expansion Miami. He made two appearances off the bench in the club's first two games before the league was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. 

He's enjoying his time in South Florida so far, pandemic notwithstanding.  

"I don’t really think about (the past) too much, I just try to focus on what I’m doing now," Agudelo said. "I like the experiences I’ve had with all the clubs. Especially now with Miami."