Juan Agudelo, the real deal?

[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.

9 comments about "Juan Agudelo, the real deal?".
  1. Walt Pericciuoli, March 28, 2011 at 8:08 a.m.

    Augeldo has certain qualities that Altidore and Johnson do not have. He has comfort with the ball under pressure and the confidence to take on defenders. As long as we don't try to change him into a target man as a lone sriker to hold the ball waiting for help. We seem to be constantly looking for the new Brian McBide. I think that has become expected from Jozy and it has ruined his game. Jozy should try to regain his touch and revert to playing as he did with the Red Bulls. I don't think it is too late for Jozy. With the comeback (hopefully) of Davis and the continued development of Burnbury, I think he USA could have a fairly decent attacking force if they can play together as a two or three man front.

  2. Paul Lorinczi, March 28, 2011 at 8:17 a.m.

    Agudelo provides some danger for the US in the box. HIs willingness to take players on and create. I hope they don't coach that out of him. Walt, I agree with your comment. He is not a target forward. He is a guy who can unbalance a defense in the box. Something we have not had in the USA lineup.

  3. Albert Harris, March 28, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.

    Well said Paul, particularly the bit about coaching out his willingness to take on players and create. I was watching highlights last night of the Red Bulls/Galaxy match when Beckham first arrived and was amazed to see an Altidore playing who didn't hesitate to do just that. He has sadly regressed due to being coached to be a target man and hold the ball and wait for reinforcements. There is hope for him yet, but he looked better in the game from 2008 than he has looked in any game since except Spain in the Confed cup. I fear Juan will suffer the same fate though. Hell, we'd be teaching Messi to "mark back" if he was an American.

  4. Bill Anderson, March 28, 2011 at 11:13 a.m.

    Paul, great article, and Juan would be wise to take this into consideration. When he goes to national team camp he should say "yes sir" to everything, ignore all the coaching, and go out and play his own game.

  5. Tyler Dennis, March 28, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

    What was even more interesting was the creativity that Altidore showed on the field when Agudelo came into the game. It's as if the two forwards were having "fun" which is something our team lacks because they are so lacking in skill they have to just work hard.

  6. John Hofmann, March 28, 2011 at 1:16 p.m.

    It's interesting to see these comments about how US coaching influence may well screw up natural attacking skills. I don't recall anyone actually saying this with all the hullabaloo re Rossi going with the Italian national team rather than the U.S., but I've had the thought in the back of my mind all along that perhaps both his father and he felt the U.S. would have been unable to really use him 'as is', would have flubbed dealing with his high abilities, and thus Italy was really his only option.

  7. John Soares, March 28, 2011 at 3 p.m.

    Hey Ric, Give it a rest. So far your suggestions have fallen far short of Bradleys acomplishments. You keeping bashing MLS and American players and style. But then expect Bradley to perform miracles with those same players. AND as much as I love Brazil. there is some pretty decent soccer being played without Latino, Barcelona only starts two Real often none...

  8. Joey Tremone, March 28, 2011 at 7:39 p.m.

    Plus, Ric ignores the evidence whenever it suits him. Altidore was playing with plenty of panache in MLS. If it was 'coached out of him', that would be in Europe (probably in England). It is also possible that this is just the kind of player he had to become to survive at the higher level. Stars at lower levels having to become role-players at higher levels is a story as old as time.

    As to Walt:
    "Augeldo has certain qualities that Altidore and Johnson do not have."

    That is true. . . but it wasn't the original point, which was that he may also have holes in his game we haven't seen yet. His appearances so far (even counting club) aren't what you'd call a real sample size, and arguably haven't tested all phases of his game as of yet.

  9. beautiful game, March 28, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.

    Agudelo has potential...let's hope the likes of BB doesn't diminish his talent growth. He still needs to prove himself in a full90.

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