FRISCO, Texas – For fans frustrated by the lack of playing time for 19-year-old starlet Juan Agudelo for the New York Red Bulls, they might be in for a surprise on Sunday afternoon in the season opener vs. FC Dallas (3 pm ET, NBC Sports Network).
In a short-sided 10-v-8 scrimmage under the rain at FC Dallas Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Agudelo partnered alongside Thierry Henry. However, Red Bulls manager Hans Backe was not about to confirm his strike pair.
“I know [the starting forward pair],” Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve known the whole week. But you’ll have to guess, you guys on the outside.”
Agudelo appeared in 27 matches last season but was a starter on just 12 occasions. The youngster's participation in the recent US Olympic camp meant that Backe often lined up forward Kenny Cooper with Henry in recent preseason matches.
Entering his third MLS season at the helm of the Red Bulls, the Swedish manager says he wants to see greater consistency from his squad in 2012 and better defending on set pieces, which saw the club scrapping their zonal marking system for a man-on-man defensive set-up on dead balls with 10 games remaining last year.
Speaking of defending, Backe didn’t deny the claim made by Schellas Hyndman when the FCD manager predicted that the Red Bulls would be keying on FCD midfielder Daniel Hernandez, who orchestrates from deep in midfield.
It's a sign of just how familiar both teams are with one other. The Red Bulls ended FC Dallas’ season last year with a 2-0 victory in a single-match playoff in Frisco.
“They know us well and we know them well,” Backe said. “We have a great record against them. We haven’t lost in two years [against FCD]. Even though it’s been very even games, we’ve been lucky to finish off well in winning most of the games. But they are still one of the better sides in this league.”