Ángel plays through pain, uncertain future to help RBNY win

Captain must deal with departure, lack of strikers at RBNY

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Juan Pablo Ángel is speaking like a man on a mission. That mission, his last in the colors of the New York Red Bulls, begins this Saturday when New York take on the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium (10 p.m. ET, Telefutura).

“We are at the stage where, if we get it right, we can make history,” Angel said of this year’s Red Bulls.

Two weeks ago, Ángel said that he knew “for a fact” that he would not be returning to the Red Bulls next year. The Colombian helped New York make the 2008 MLS Cup final and was resilient last year despite the club’s last-place finish.

“This is playoff time — it’s all or nothing,” Ángel said.

The Colombian’s mentality is reflected in his preparation. Teammate Dane Richards said last week that Ángel is a player who always “gives his 100 percent,” despite his contract circumstances.

The captain took a knock to his right ankle on Tuesday during training, but didn’t even walk to the sidelines for treatment, instead returning to a small-sided scrimmage.

The Red Bulls are optimistic that they can advance to the MLS Cup final, given their homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They did, after all, finish the season at the top of the Eastern Conference. Ángel is the team’s leading scorer this season with 13 goals, but he faces a daunting task on Saturday.

Usual strike partners Thierry Henry and Salou Ibrahim are both out injured. That means that the captain will most likely partner with Mehdi Ballouchy or 17-year-old Juan Agudelo, who has never started an MLS game.

“Mehdi is not a striker by any means,” Ángel said. “He’s more a creative midfielder.”

That leaves Agudelo, a player who speaks glowingly of his captain as a teammate and as a leader. According to the teenager, Ángel has personally mentored him on and off the field, showing him tips and technique to help his game develop. Agudelo has played just twice in league play since signing out of the team’s academy in the spring but has grown by leaps and bounds the past two months.

“Juan has been doing well,” Ángel said. “I think he’s made an impression.”

He does concede that he and Agudelo “haven’t played together” in a match, even a friendly, but the tools are there for the teenager to make it a promising strike partnership. And don’t expect the veteran sniper to get greedy with his chances, even if he’s playing with a teenager.

“I’ll always sacrifice my personal performance for the team’s performance,” Ángel said.

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012