HARRISON, N.J. – Juan Agudelo walked into the New York Red Bulls’ press conference room on crutches. Wearing a white adidas sweater, black workout pants and black sneakers, Agudelo sat down to talk about his knee injury and the US U-23 team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics.
Even though Agudelo will be out of action for the next month or so, the latter topic was the one that seemed to sting the most for the young forward.
The Americans were eliminated from Olympic qualifying on Monday in heartbreaking fashion, giving up a last-gasp goal to El Salvador in a 3-3 draw that saw Canada and Los Cuscatlecos advance to the semifinals.
Lots of questions have been asked as to why one of the most talented US youth teams failed, but Agudelo believes it happened in part because of the team’s overconfidence.
“Maybe I feel like most of us believed that in some way possible that we were going to get through no matter what,” Agudelo told MLSsoccer.com, “and it came pretty surreal to everyone.
“It just shows how teams are improving in CONCACAF and how close games can be defined from one moment, one corner kick, and it can change your whole tournament. Everything went against us, so maybe it was meant to be.”
Agudelo, who scored in the group-opening 6-0 win against Cuba last Thursday, admitted difficulty in watching his American teammates crash out of the tournament.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in my life because I’m really close to those guys,” he said. “To just watch the TV and feel so helpless and wishing that maybe you could have made a difference, it kind of sucks.”
Agudelo now turns his focus on his recovery in order to return to the Red Bulls. He had successful surgery on Monday and could be out for up to a month.
While the 19-year-old forward could dwell on the negatives of being out that long, Agudelo sees this time off as a chance to rest after playing almost nonstop for the past 18 months.
“That could also be a good thing because I have been on my feet for the past year-and-a-half,” Agudelo said. ”Maybe it’s just good to get a rest and let all my other injuries that I have, maybe my ankle, fully recover and be back 100 percent.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.