[MY VIEW] With his tying goal in the USA's 1-1 tie with Argentina on Saturday night, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo has been anointed the next great scoring hope of American soccer. Two other recent great scoring hopes -- Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson -- also got off to fast starts for the USA but their careers stalled when they both moved to Europe in 2008. Will Agudelo be different?
The bottom line is that it's entirely too soon to make projections about Agudelo's career. He has only three appearances for the U.S. national team -- each as a second-half sub -- and has played only three regular-season games for MLS's New York Red Bulls.
He has shown a knack for finding the goal -- goals in the win at South Africa in his U.S. debut in November and against Argentina, and a penalty kick earned against Chile and converted by Teal Bunbury for the tying goal in January.
The pressure will be on Agudelo sooner than it was on either Johnson or Altidore. Both had starred in Under-20 World Cups for the USA before making their senior debuts. It's likely Agudelo will skip 2011 Under-20 World Cup in Colombia and go to the 2011 Gold Cup instead.
But while Altidore and Johnson relied more on their size and speed, respectively, Agudelo is better on the ball than either of them and better prepared than either of them for the challenge ahead on a national team struggling to find its way since the 2010 World Cup.
In each of his three brief appearances, the USA was better for having Agudelo on the field -- goals or no goals -- which is reason enough to put him in the lineup.
Before we go overboard, though, it's important to remember how hot Altidore and Johnson were when they started and where they are now.
JOZY ALTIDORE. Like Agudelo, Altidore made his U.S. debut against South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup. He was 18 when he earned his first cap in November 2007 but by then he had a rather lengthy resume.
He had debuted for the Red Bulls the previous year when he scored three goals in their run to the playoffs. In 2007, he had nine goals in 22 MLS regular-season games and added four goals in five games for the USA at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada. The next year he set a record for the youngest player to score for the USA during the modern era when he scored against Mexico in a friendly.
Altidore's move from the Red Bulls to Villarreal in 2008 was valued at an MLS record $10 million, but he has been a disappointment so far in Europe, where he has failed to crack the Villarreal starting lineup and been loaned out three times.
Jozy finished as the leading U.S. scorer in 2010 World Cup qualifying with six goals but failed to score in four games in South Africa. His biggest goal for the USA came a year earlier when he scored the first goal in its 2-0 win over Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.
Altidore is prized for his size in the manner of hulking forwards favored by many big European clubs, but his poor technique has limited his effectiveness.
EDDIE JOHNSON. Before Altidore, Johnson was the great U.S. scoring hope. He was the leading scorer on the first U.S. under-17 national team that had spent its entire cycle in residency and won the Golden Shoe as the top scorer at the 2003 Under-20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
He debuted with the Dallas Burn at the age of 17 in 2001 but finished in double digits in goals only twice in seven seasons with Dallas and Kansas City before moving to Fulham in England in a deal valued at $6 million in 2008.
Johnson was 20 when he made his U.S. debut in October 2004 and like Agudelo scored coming off the bench in his U.S. debut. His streak of goals in each of his first four international matches is a U.S. record. He had six goals in those four games, all 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Unfortunately, he's had only six goals in 38 matches since then and he has faded from the national team picture.
Like Altidore, Johnson has been loaned out in each of his last three seasons. Now at last-place Preston North End in the English second tier, Johnson turns 27 on Thursday and faces an uncertain future.
One of the fastest players to ever play for the U.S. national team, Johnson has improved little in recent years. Unlike Altidore, who has at times been an effective target man, Johnson hasn't linked well with his U.S. teammates.