By Ridge Mahoney
More than two years after he scored on his debut for the USA in South Africa, Juan Agudelo is apparently staying in MLS. He was among several MLS young players to be pursued by foreign teams in the past few months.
The league signed off on deals to sell FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea (Stoke City) and D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar (Anderlecht).
Shea, 22, was issued the UK work permit needed to finalize his deal, which is reportedly worth 2.5 million pounds ($3.9 million). Figures in connection with the Najar transfer have been estimated at $3 million.
A training stint with Glasgow Celtic last November sparked some interest in Agudelo from the Scottish club, and according to a source, an offer was made this month, but the offer has been rejected and Agudelo will not be joining Celtic during the January transfer window.
Safe to say, the club that offered a relatively paltry $1 million for Shalrie Joseph while he was at the peak of his powers six years ago probably offered a lot less for Agudelo, despite his potential and age (20).
MLS, however, must sign Agudelo to a new contract in fairly short order or risk losing him for nothing, as he is entering the final year of his MLS contract. He earned $100,000 in guaranteed compensation (base salary: $70,000) in 2012.
The departure of former head coach Robin Fraser and hiring of Jose Luis Sanchez Sola raised questions about Agudelo’s status with Chivas USA, which acquired him from the Red Bulls last summer in exchange for defender Heath Pearce and allocation money.
The new coach, nicknamed “El Chelis,” has jettisoned several players since taking command, yet hasn’t expressed a desire to get rid of Agudelo, who scored just three goals in 20 games as Chivas USA stumbled to a last-place finish.
Since its inception, MLS has kept guarded its reasons for deciding to sell certain players and retaining the rights to others. Money is an important consideration, and the desire and ambition of the player must be factors as well. Since opinions vary as to what might be in the player’s best interest, those evaluations can get murky.
The sale of Jozy Altidore to Spanish club Villarreal in 2008 was sharply criticized, since he left the league at 18 after playing less than two full seasons with the MetroStars/Red Bulls. But a price tag of $10 million, which is still a record for an MLS player, played a powerful role in the decision, as did the nearly $5 million paid for TFC midfielder Maurice Edu, then 22, by Glasgow Rangers that same year.
Though they are four years apart in age, Edu (38 games) and Altidore (37) had played about the same number of MLS matches when they were sold. Both had already debuted for the national team, as has Agudelo. And Agudelo has played more MLS games (52) than either Edu or Altidore, and many people predicted great things for him when he scored six goals in 27 games for New York in the 2011 season. But Altidore needed a change of clubs, to AZ, to find his feet in Europe. Rangers' financial troubles prompted Edu's move to Stoke City, for which he rarely played, and he's been loaned to Turkish club Bursaspor.
Agudelo has left his first club, his future to be determined. Selling the right player to the right club at the right time at the right price would meet the best interests of everyone, but those factors rarely converge.
Sporting Kansas City couldn’t block Roger Espinoza’s move to Wigan, since he was out of contract to the MLS team, and it surely would rather keep Kei Kamara than loan him to Norwich City, but it has approved a loan deal that runs until May 6. Kamara, 28, isn't a young player yet many of the same considerations apply.
Najar’s deal started as a loan, too, but after seeing him in games Anderlecht opted to buy up. Najar and Shea head overseas with a lot more game experience than the other players discussed here as well as their first caps.
Najar (82 MLS games) debuted for Honduras in 2011, and Shea (98 league matches) got his first cap in 2010, a month before Agudelo scored in his first international.
The Agudelo case will bear close watching in the next few months. Will the Colombian native hold down a starting role for Chivas USA under its Mexican-centric coach? Will MLS pursue a new deal with him aggressively, or lose him as a free agent? Can he solidify a place in the U.S. squad while competing with Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez, and others?
It’s good news for MLS that foreign teams see value in its young players and in many cases, pay decent money for them. When the players flourish everybody wins, but that's not a given. The saga of Agudelo will take interesting twists this year.