Last week Thierry Henry became the definitive star of the moment, signed to the Red Bulls’ most lucrative contract and saddled with the responsibility of guiding New York to their first-ever MLS title.
But all the while, the Red Bulls have quietly harbored their star of the future in a 17 year-old kid still studying high school text books in the New Jersey suburbs.
Juan Agudelo is a year shy of his first lottery ticket. He still giggles at the idea that he drives a BMW. And he’s still zooming the teenage girls or playing video games whenever he’s not studying.
But make no mistake. As far as the Red Bulls are concerned, what Henry is for today, Agudelo is for tomorrow.
“I feel like I am very fortunate to be in the position that I am in,” Agudelo told MLSSoccer.com. “I realize that not everyone can have this chance and I want to make the most of it.”
The second player that the Red Bulls have ever signed from their academy, Agudelo was a regular with the U-17 US national team and is now suits up with the U-20’s. He is expected to miss this week’s Barclay’s New York Football Challenge to play with the U-20’s, but his play this year in the U.S. Open Cup and friendly matches has been a positive for the team.
Agudelo is a powerfully built 6-foot-1 striker who finishes well. He’s also one of the few teenagers in the league who faces a former US national team member (Chris Albright) and MLS veterans such as Mike Petke and Carlos Mendes every day in practice.
And there’s a vital relationship building here for New York’s future. Agudelo says he’s grown close to striker Juan Pablo Angel, and that the time spent is already paying off.
“He has told me and shown me the little things, how to improve my game,” Agudelo says. “But he also talks to me about how to handle myself and approach things.”
He admitted to being slightly intimidated when he first made the jump to MLS earlier this season, but chalk that up largely to the locker room talk. Suddenly his teammates were chatting about houses, wives, children and investments.
“I learned that the guys on the team don’t like taxes very much,” Agudelo said. “I really didn’t understand that at first. Then I got my check and I saw what they were talking about. Now I don’t like taxes much either.”
Still, Agudelo isn’t about to panic. Despite lofty expectations, he’s remained as grounded as possible, and closely in touch with reality.
“It is still important for me to be just a kid,” he says calmly.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012