HANOVER, N.J. – Home to some of the best young talent in the country, the New York Red Bulls academy has seen their fair share of success over the years, but perhaps the biggest name to advance through the academy ranks is no longer with the club.
Still just 22 years of age, New England Revolution forward Juan Agudelo has seen his fair share of ups and downs in his young career. In 2010, Agudelo burst onto the scene with the Red Bulls, bringing flare and seemingly limitless potential with him. Expectations were sky-high for the teenager as the prospects of learning under the likes of Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry had Red Bulls fans salivating.
Yet, somehow, it wasn’t meant to be in New York.
“I think it was a good environment for him to be in, in terms of learning under the best,” former teammate Dax McCarty said. “Thierry was obviously a guy he could learn from, but clearly Thierry was a guy that was always on the field so maybe Juan didn’t get as many opportunities as he felt he should’ve or maybe he deserved. So it was a little inconsistent here in terms of his playing time. He started a couple of games and then he was on the bench for a few games.”
Regardless, the hype train didn’t stop there, as former US national team head coach Bob Bradley quickly took notice and called Agudelo into a November 2010 camp to take on South Africa. The teenager responded in kind, scoring the winner in his substitute appearance, then netting the equalizer against Argentina four months later. From there, expectations surrounding Agudelo reached a fever pitch.
“I like Juan a lot,” current Red Bulls head coach and former USMNT assistant coach Jesse Marsch said. “I think he’s a good kid [and] a talent. The relationship I had with him when he was with the national team was a good one. I tried to help him try to be successful at that level and how to build on some of his talents to make him more well-rounded.”
In the years that followed, Agudelo found himself on the outs with New York. Managing just six goals in 2011, he was traded to Chivas USA in May 2012, enjoying limited success before seemingly finding a new home in New England. The forward scored seven times over 14 appearances with the Revolution in 2013, but left the club in a failed attempt to join English Premier League football with Stoke City. The move saw the young Agudelo fall out of favor with national team, earning just three caps between 2012-14.
“Juan was a buddy of mine and a good player here for the Red Bulls,” McCarty added. “He was kind of lost in the wilderness, so to speak, in terms of his situation a couple months ago. I think that was a growing experience for him, a learning experience. I think he’s got a little bit more clarity now in his game and his future.”
Now back with New England, the in-form striker has seemingly picked up where he left off at both the club and national team level, netting twice with the Revolution as well as scoring against Mexico in his most recent USMNT appearance.
“He’s a good player,” said McCarty. “He’s a guy that’s very dangerous, always has a lot of potential, a lot of talent. The one good thing Jay Heaps has done for him is he’s starting to turn him into a very effective player. When he was here in New York, he showed flashes of brilliances in the things that he could do on the field, but it was a little inconsistent.
"I think now in New England, he’s starting to get that consistency back. He’s starting to get a lot of games under his belt, and obviously scoring for the national team gives him confidence.”
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Now part of an impressive attacking core in New England, Agudelo is finally thriving as many predicted he would earlier in his career and will host the Red Bulls on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Joining with former national team forwards Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies in the Revolution attack, Agudelo has done little to hide his jubilation to be back with the team with which he’s enjoyed his most successful days.
For all of the trials and tribulations that have befallen the young Agudelo, McCarty believes that the adversity will ultimately have a positive impact on the striker's career.
“I think the one thing that he’s learned is how to be a good pro; how to have better training habits, how to be a little more mature," McCarty said. "He’s a fun loving guy and let’s not forget that he’s still a young kid. He’s a guy that’s still growing up and still maturing. His experience over in England, the frustration of not having soccer everyday and not really knowing what the future held definitely helped him mature and grow up a little.
"He’s got a really bright future ahead of him if he continues on the same path.”