BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, May 17, 2010
When US U20 head coach Thomas Rongen announced the roster that would participate in the Cor Groenewegen Tournament in Holland, one of the players tabbed to lead the squad was New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo.
Agudelo, 17, is currently in his first professional season with the Red Bulls after signing with the club in March.
He bypassed the usual SuperDraft route because he rose through the Red Bulls system after growing up in New Jersey so the club was able to sign him as a discovery player.
Agudelo entered the team with much anticipation after a highly touted youth career that saw him represent the US last year at the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
While the Red Bulls were dismal last year with the worst record in the league, they are seeing sudden turnaround thanks to an impressive rookie class and new Swedish head coach Hans Backe who formerly coached successfully at FC Copenhagen and Aalborg BK.
Agudelo feels that in just his third month at the Red Bulls he is starting to improve at a steady rate and he credits Backe for these changes.
"My game is definitely changing," Agudelo told YA. "I am getting a lot smarter. I know what to do before I get the ball. The coaches here say that I am improving really fast and that I have the potential to be one of the best here. I just have to keep working hard, lifting weights and getting bigger. "
"I think I am improving really fast," he continued. "I think my height and my strength have helped me a lot because when I put my body in the way, I don't seem to lose the ball."
In New York, Agudelo is also enjoying being around fellow promising rookies Tony Tchani, Conor Chinn and Tim Ream while mentored by veteran season professionals. Agudelo feels this has also aided in his development.
"Carl Robinson, in the midfield, is from [Wales] and I like to get a lot of feedback from him because he's been there at the top level in Europe," he added. "I don't talk that much with [Juan Pablo Angel] but I am hoping to get some more [feedback] out of him. I like the way Tony Tchani plays and we are good friends."
Agudelo, who received a lot of playing time in the preseason and currently has been playing in Red Bull US Open Cup matches, has also been impressed with the MLS despite initial reservations.
"The MLS is a lot better than I expected", Agudelo discussed. "People were telling me it wasn't a good league. I now believe it's a really good league. When I came in at first the speed of the game was faster, people were stronger and I was getting pushed off the ball. Then I gradually developed myself to understand mentally and physically how to play at their level. And it turned out real well."
While Agudelo is satisfied with the league where he now plays, he had other options earlier in the year when was looking to begin his professional career following the U17 World Cup last fall. In early January of this year, he went on an extended trial with Bogotá club Deportivo Los Millonarios.
Agudelo, who was born roughly 100 miles west of the club's location in Manizales, Colombia, played well on the trial but ultimately decided he did not enjoy the style of play in Colombia's domestic league.
"It was a whole different experience," Agudelo recalled of his trial with Milllonarios. "The living environment was different. The playing style was very different. It's not more of a clean possession game. It's more like 'get the ball back and if you have to foul, then foul.' If they have to kick you, they will kick you. That wasn't my playing style. That's why I chose to stay here than go to Colombia."
Agudelo will leave the Red Bulls in the coming days to join up with the US U20 national team as the leave for Holland. It will be his third time he has played with the team this cycle.
"The team is good," Agudelo assessed. "They have a lot of potential to do well at the World Cup. I am just working hard to be able to go out to this tournament, do well, and see how I match up with those other players on the team. They are really good and a bit older."
One of the players Agudelo will play with in Holland is fellow MLS rookie forward and U17 teammate Jack McInerney. While the two players have very different playing styles, there is a strong possibility that they could be the starting forwards at next year's U20 World Cup in Colombia.
"I like playing with Jack." Agudelo said of the young Philadelphia Union player. "He's the type of forward that just likes to stay forward near the goal and get chances and get rebounds. I am the type of forward that tracks back and receive the ball, help the midfield keep possession."
"When I need to get forward I can play one-two's off of [McInerney] and give him through-ball passes. I like to get the ball a lot more like a midfielder type of player. I think it will help us a lot really well if we start up top."
When Agudelo arrives in Holland he will also resume working under Rongen. For Agudelo there are major differences in the coaching styles of the Dutch-born Rongen when compared with Sweden-born Backe at the Red Bulls.
"Backe is really a tactical coach," Agudelo said of his club coach. "Every training session we do tactics to help us with our game. He also tries to keep the defense compact."
"With Rongen, he's more like a type of free coach," he continued in contrast. "He changes his playing style, I believe, to the way his players are. So if we have good wide players that can hit good crosses, he would probably change the formation to help the team. He's more flexible than Hans Backe here with the Red Bulls."
While Agudelo is happy with the Red Bulls and is developing there under Backe, he does have long term goals to eventually move his game overseas into the elite leagues of Europe.
He feels that playing with the U20's regularly this cycle will provide him the platform to showcase
"I am hoping that I do well with the U20s so that I maybe get seen by some European teams because that is where I want to take my [game to] eventually as a young player, " Agudelo concluded.