After a somewhat invisible match during a 0-0 tie at Chivas USA on Saturday night, Red Bulls teenage forward Juan Agudelo has come under scrutiny for his quiet performance.
The teenager, now a regular call-up to the United States national team, is two weeks removed from a brace in a midweek win over Toronto FC but failed to make an impact in the Red Bulls subsequent losses to D.C. United and then this past weekend’s tie in Carson, Calif.
Head coach Hans Backe cautioned that Agudelo, who exploded on the scene last year during the MLS Cup playoffs while still just a teenager, might be going through too much, too soon — especially in regards to sponsorships and media exposure.
“I just felt it was too much around him,” Backe said. “It still has been — it’s difficult to protect a player who has been in commercials. He’s too early, too young. That’s the way it is worldwide, with 17-, 18-year-old guys having success at an early age.”
Backe was surprised last year that, after just a handful of MLS games, Agudelo was called up for a national team friendly in South Africa. Agudelo scored in that match earning another call in January and then he tallied in March, scoring the equalizing goal in a 1-1 draw against Argentina before being named to last month's Gold Cup roster. Since then, he has enjoyed some success with the Red Bulls, scoring four goals, but is behind Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers for selection to the starting XI.
“As a young guy, you lose focus,” Backe said. “Even if you say, ‘I can handle it,’ you can’t handle it, I know it. I think the club just has to be aware, get the information all the time.”
Calling Agudelo’s game and partnership with Henry a “learning process,” Backe said that he doesn’t plan on changing the strike partnership from Saturday night for Wednesday's match at Colorado (9:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). With Rodgers still out with a heel injury, it looks like Agudelo has a chance to redeem himself.
And Backe, who will coach the MLS All-Stars next week against Manchester United, had no problems with Agudelo being named to the squad. MLS Commissioner Don Garber tabbed Agudelo for the honor and Backe understands the inclusion of the young striker to face the English Premier League champions.
“He’s a Home Grown, he’s a talented player,” Backe said. “It’s about him becoming the next, the future player for the US. I’m not surprised at all.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer