WASHINGTON – He might be the ultimate enigma for a soccer nation that cranks them out with regularity.
Juan Agudelo made his US national team debut nearly six years ago, at the tender age of 17, and marked the occasion with a dramatic 85th-minute winner vs. South Africa in Cape Town. Enormously talented, he's racked up 18 more caps since then. But he hasn't had a chance to earn his next one in well over a year, having fallen down Jurgen Klinsmann's pecking order amid inconsistency in both his position and his performances with the New England Revolution.
The 23-year-old finally got the call again last week, thanks in large part to his three goals and three assists during the Revs' 4-1 surge since the start of September (not to mention a brace in the US Open Cup final). It may yet prove insufficient to sneak New England into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, but it's reminded everyone, Klinsmann included, of Agudelo's abilities.
“It's an awesome feeling to put on even the practice gear, and being out and seeing a couple of the guys I haven't seen in a while,” Agudelo said Monday from RFK Stadium ahead of Tuesday's USMNT friendly vs. New Zealand (8 pm ET, ESPN, UniMás).
“I just try to take advantage of whatever time I get, do the most that I can as soon as I step onto the field, because I want to be back here, and I want to prove to Jurgen how bad I want to be back here.”
The Colombian-born striker has been tasked with varying roles across the Revs' front four over the past two seasons, and spent weeks on the sidelines this summer due to an MCL injury. But his return to health – along with his team's shift to a 4-4-2 formation – sparked some of the best performances of his career this fall.
“Just being able to finally get into good, consistent form, and with the way that we've changed our formation, I think it benefits me in many ways,” he said. “Because it's a formation that I've been used to, and 4-3-3 is different from what I've played all my life.”
Agudelo hasn't taken the field in international play since the Yanks' 2-1 friendly win over Germany in June 2015. Such long droughts have given him a fuller appreciation of the honor and opportunity Klinsmann's calls represent.
“I am more excited now to get a call-up, maybe because I haven't been called in a year,” he acknowledged. “But it's definitely more of a privilege – and it should've always been a privilege, but now it's like, I understand. It's more about maturing, I guess.”
Once dubbed “a kid that has something a little bit different” by his USMNT coach, Agudelo said on Monday that he understands what's expected of him now. He's willing to grab whatever role is offered on occasions like Tuesday's.
“I feel like I know the key that's going to get Jurgen to call me,” he said. “I just have to do it on the club level, and I'll get the call.
“With the national team, there's guys playing overseas getting consistent time. It's tough competition … even if it's coming off the bench, I would love to represent my country like that.”