UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – After Juan Agudelo made his MLS debut for New York in last Saturday’s scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake, the teenager was nowhere to be found in the locker room.
The 17-year-old striker became New York’s first ever academy-developed player to find the field for the club in MLS play. But instead of savoring the moment like a typical teenager, Agudelo was back on the field, playing for the Red Bulls’ U-18 squad against the U-17 United States national team.
“I didn’t feel like I got a good enough workout in,” Agudelo told MLSsoccer.com. “I want to improve as a player, and I wanted to play some more.”
So Agudelo went to head coach Hans Backe and said that he wanted to play in the second game against the U-17 national team. Backe thought it was a good idea, but limited him to 30 minutes in the match. Agudelo played and performed well, drawing a constant double team from the national team defenders during his time on the field.
It wasn’t too long ago that Agudelo, who turns 18 in November, was with the U-17 residency program in Florida. The forward originally began to make a name for himself in the program before becoming the second homegrown signing in New York’s club history.
“I used to play with them — I was in residency there,” Agudelo said. “But that wasn’t the issue. If it was any other team, I still want to go in there and play against them. I want to improve in game situations. I think I’m good in practice, but I want to get better in games.”
Agudelo has taken this year, his first with the senior team, to improve as a player and further learn his craft. He credits Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel for developing him as a forward and helping him learn to round out his game.
Henry told Agudelo that he needs to get the ball facing toward goal as much as possible because “when you do that, defenders back off.”
But Ángel, in particular, has seemingly taken the player under his wing.
“He told me the most important thing in soccer is to score, to get yourself in good position and then to score and make the most of it,” Agudelo said. “I remember the first time I saw him, watching him score on a header against Brazil. Then I watched him when I was with the academy and seeing him play in person – wow, he is good.”
Agudelo never thought he’d be playing along with Ángel in a MLS match. Saturday afternoon, Agudelo did think briefly about the fact that he might assist the Colombian star in his league debut. Or, that Ángel might be the one to set him up with a goal as well.
“I thought about it; I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Agudelo said. “If I had scored or had an assist, I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t think I’d have been able to process it.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012