UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — With the news on Thursday that the Red Bulls will be without Thierry Henry and Salou Ibrahim for Saturday’s playoff match against San Jose, finding the strike partner for Juan Pablo Angel is the top priority for the Red Bulls.
The role could very well go to a teenager with less than 20 minutes of professional soccer experience: Juan Agudelo. The promising youngster could get his first professional start on Saturday – in a playoff game, no less.
Backe didn’t even blink when asked if Agudelo, in his first year in the league out of the team’s academy, could make an impact against San Jose. The tools are there, he says.
“He’s a very lively striker,” Backe said Thursday. “He can run for 90 minutes.”
Agudelo made his league debut earlier this month as a late-game substitute against Real Salt Lake, coming on as a wide midfielder. The following week, in Philadelphia, the forward got a few more minutes in a 2-1 loss. Now, he may be primed for some major minutes alongside Ángel as the Red Bulls look for a result at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Earlier this week, Backe said that he envisions Agudelo contributing next season on the wings, where the player’s vision and speed can be utilized to stretch the field.
It is those same attributes that make the teenager a key for the New York attack on Saturday, where he’ll be counted on to do plenty of running at the San Jose back line to open things up for Ángel up top.
“The spacing there between [San Jose’s] defenders and their goalkeeper isn’t that good,” Agudelo said.
All year long, Backe has said that he wanted a striker with pace up top to help create more room for his attacking players, and Agudelo said he isn’t afraid to do the little things to help the team win.
“I’m willing to do the dirty work,” said Agudelo said of his possible role on Saturday. “I’m anxious to … see what I can do at the next level.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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