Red Bulls slap Agudelo with 1m 45s insult

By Paul Gardner

Is Juan Agudelo going to be a star? We've seen flashes of sheer brilliance from him, and we’ve seen him looking pretty ordinary. Anyone can look ordinary, but not many can look brilliant, so it is only natural to believe, to want to believe, that Agudelo has something special.

But the question raises a whole string of “ifs” and “maybes” -- and the biggest uncertainty concerns the way in which he is being handled at the Red Bulls.

I have expressed before my feeling that Agudelo is not getting enough playing time with the Bulls. That feeling became a certainty on Thursday night -- a certainty to which is now added the conviction that Agudelo should find another club as soon as he can.

Thursday night’s game, against the Philadelphia Union, was described by Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe as a "special" sort of game. Presumably because it was the game that could ensure the Red Bulls’ qualification for the playoffs. A win or a tie would do, and even a loss would not have been fatal.

For whatever reason, this “special” game called for a special approach, it seems. “More direct,” said Backe, “maybe a little more cynical in our approach.” It meant a total lack of anything that looked like midfield creativity, or even midfield activity, and a succession of long balls whacked up the middle for Luke Rodgers to chase.

One was left, yet again, wondering why, when a “special” game -- i.e. one requiring a result -- comes around, all thought of playing decent soccer is abandoned.

I suggested to Backe that this was crude stuff -- he didn’t agree, of course. Rodgers’ acceleration and combativeness were needed for this more direct play (accompanied by his customary stupidity, for which he collected a yellow card). Rodgers did a lot of charging about, was called offside several times, but never really threatened the Philadelphia goal.

This all meant that there was no place for Agudelo. Until the very end of the game, that is, when we witnessed what can only be seen as a colossal slur on Agudelo’s ability. The game was already into added time, when Agudelo was sent on as a sub ... for Luke Rodgers. Agudelo played for precisely 1 minute and 45 seconds. I’m not sure whether he even managed to get a touch of the ball during that briefest of moments.

There are several ways of looking at this, none of them encouraging. The most obvious are that the main idea was to take Rodgers off the field -- either to be applauded, which he was, or simply to banish the danger of him collecting a second yellow and a subsequent suspension. Both of those possibilities -- as does a third, that this was a move to waste time -- see Agudelo being treated merely as a pawn.

All of those reasons unquestionably reveal a lack of respect for Agudelo. And that attitude, for sure, can only exist if his playing ability is not rated very highly.

The development of soccer talent remains a highly mysterious process. Maybe, given all the attention that is paid to it, all the experts and theories that have appeared over the past couple of decades -- and, it must be said, all the great young players who have come through -- there ought no longer to be any mystery attached to the matter.

But there clearly is. Nothing in the process is as clear as the experts would have us believe. There is not an expert on this planet who can say, with rock-solid certainty, that teenager A will make it and teenager B will not -- and who, should he have got that right, go on to repeat his successful prediction with a succession of other players.

One thing that greatly distorts the scene is the unavoidable fact that we tend to hear a great deal about the successes, and very little about the failures. We are accustomed to praising the coaches and the academy programs that produce young stars, praise that is no doubt substantially merited. But can it be assumed that if a promising young player doesn’t make it, his failure is entirely down to his own shortcomings?

I don’t think so. There must surely be cases in which young players are mishandled, where their talents are not appreciated by their coaches, who want something different from them. I’m not talking about the special kids -- a young Maradona or Rooney or Messi, say -- whose talent is always likely to overcome any obstacles. For so many others, though, the molding of their talents, the way in which their coaches treat them, is crucial.

There is nothing to be marveled at here -- any sort of education runs into the same problems, of teachers who suit certain children but not others, of pupils who respond only to certain ways or aspects of teaching and so on. In the case of Agudelo, it is clear that he has the wrong coaches. No particular blame needs to be handed out here -- we are deep into the realm of soccer styles, and what gives a player his personal style.

It should be enough to say, at this stage, that Backe and his cohorts at the Red Bulls want qualities -- probably they are European qualities -- out of Agudelo that he is not able to give them. His style, still developing, will naturally be more Latin American, and it is clear -- at least, I regard it as clear -- that it will be based more on sophisticated, skillful play than on the physical power that Agudelo’s size and strength suggest.

We -- I mean the journalists -- have been berated by both Backe and Thierry Henry as over-praising Agudelo, we stand accused as potential trouble-makers who are causing ego problems for him, even as menaces who will destroy his career before it gets going.

Possibly. As I said, there is little certainty in any of this. Backe’s method, it would appear, is to drastically limit Agudelo’s playing time. Hence that miserable 1 minute and 45 seconds. And talking of ego problems, and morale issues -- are we being asked to believe that such a belittling move, such a glaring insult, is supposed to have a positive effect on Agudelo?

To progress, Agudelo needs to get away from the Red Bulls -- from a heavily European-oriented coaching staff that regards, not sophistication, but the crudities of Luke Rodgers, as the pinnacle of forward play.

That is the irrefutable message of that unpardonably callous substitution at the end of Thursday’s game. Just 1 minute and 45 seconds, that was all that Agudelo got.

20 comments about "Red Bulls slap Agudelo with 1m 45s insult".
  1. haendel lazo, October 22, 2011 at 11:13 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner, I agree 100% with you, Agudelo is a US national player that I hope Klinsmann will advise to leave the Red Bull as soon a possible, he has the potential to became one of the best strikers in the Concacaf, but this is the time he has to have playing time.

  2. Tim Nolan, October 23, 2011 at 12:32 a.m.

    Fantastic article. You hit the nail right on the head. Agudelo at 18 is a tremendous talent and instead of allowing that talent to grow and mature this year Backe has almost punished him for the praise he has received from the media. The game against the Union was absolutely a slap in the face to Agudelo. Of course, as a Red Bulls fan, I don't want to see Agudelo leave the team but I do want the USMNT excel and I think he needs to go somewhere where he can flourish and allow his skills to progress. Obviously, Klinsmann sees sonething in the kid to keep selecting him and playing him in every game.

  3. Jorge a Forero, October 23, 2011 at 1:03 a.m.

    In our United States of America a too much European or South American based team will never succeed. Coach Backe feels more confortable with a long ball type of soccer even if it means keeping talented young players on the bench. Maybe he does not know how to combine different soccer styles.

  4. Hal Hilger, October 23, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

    Here we go again, remember ADU, he was made a star when he was 13 and 14 years old, and failed miserably as a professional. Now you are using the same method with Juan Agudelo, barely 18 years, and again we are already making him a star by saying he has flashes of sheer brilliance. In europe we advance him into U19 National Team, making him aware of that he has potenial
    and he has to prove himself. Doing it that way he knows where he stands and it is up to him to prove himself. You mmade a mistake with Adu, please don't make the same mistake with Agudelo

  5. beautiful game, October 23, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.

    IMHO, Agudelo has potential, his main fault is not running off the ball well and trying too much on his own, he needs more playing time for Rodgers, a blind field vision wanderer who can'tfigure out which way to run in a given situation and an off-side magnet...add Richards to complement Rodgers and we have two dead soccer brains at one time together on the pitch.

  6. R2 Dad, October 23, 2011 at 3:10 p.m.

    And we wonder why knowledgeable american soccer fans don't follow the MLS. Good article--lame management is lame.

  7. Carl Walther, October 23, 2011 at 4:26 p.m.

    I USED to think that Backe was a good, knowledgeable coach. This season has proven he's terrible. N.Y. is a disaster.

  8. beautiful game, October 23, 2011 at 6:16 p.m.

    R2Dad, u have a point, yet the improvised version of telecasting soccer games has come to a point of eye-fatigue, video images jumping from a wide angle to closeup cameos while the ball is usually in play...too many cameras on the field have stifled the game as too many commentators have too much to say, mostly nothing about the game. Why are viewers subjected to a plethora of cameos which is essentially a major distraction filled with boredom.

  9. Rudy Espindola, October 23, 2011 at 11:48 p.m.

    the day a mls coach realizes that a 50-50 balance between latinos and european-americans is the way to go... he'll be champion of the world.

  10. Roger Sokol, October 24, 2011 at 3:26 a.m.

    It's just as bad for a coach to thoughtlessly throw a talented young player on the field as to not play him very much. What's important is for the coach to carefully pick situations that will allow the player to be effective and have a chance to gain experience. I was willing to give Hans Bache the benefit of the doubt concerning Aguedelo, but he doesn't appear to have any such plan. He's under pressure to win with the Red Bulls, so any thoughts of using a young and less experienced player have been scrapped to go with his high paid veteran players. So, I agree that maybe Juan should look for another MLS team that would give him the opportunity to play.

  11. Olga Rostron, October 24, 2011 at 8 a.m.

    Bache has had different plans since the day he arrived off the plane. He wants to use the players he brought to the team and could care less about anything else. The biggest insult came when he held Agudelo back from training with the National team about 3 weeks ago in Florida because the Red Bulls had a game. He didn't even play Juan in that game. He intentionally insulted the National team and Juan. Juan went to Fla the day before the game getting no practice with the team. His latest jab at Juan was when he put him in for 1 1/2 minutes in the last game. We knew he was going to do this and warned Juan of it. Just as a note; Juan has had 2 less goals this year than Rodgers with about 1/4 of the playing time. Bache and the Red Bulls no longer have Juans interest in mind as they said they would when he signed.

  12. Efrahim Fernandez, October 24, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.

    Juan has shown glimpses of potentially becoming a very good player. The MLS is a second or third tier league.I usually don't watch much MLS. After watching The Prem, the Liga, the Bund, and Serie A it is like watching to high ranked college teams play. It is not bad but can not compare. That bring said if your on the National Team you need to be in Europe even in the lower leagues to really develope..

  13. Julio Vargas, October 24, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.

    Paul, I agree with you and it has been something really out of my mind to try to understand why Agudelo is not part of the starting team for Red Bulls. I was hopping they will not make it to the play-offs, so Agudelo can concentrate on the US team. Juan needs to see how he can get out of Red Bulls and move on. It is hard to understand how this coach having the talent that he has cannot build a good team. Agudelo needs to go to another team, and the coach needs to get fired. How can Agudelo be good enough to play in the national team, but not to play 90 minutes in the MLS. There are players in the MLS that do not have the skills to be consider professional players, and obviously there are coaches that have no idea how to manage a team.

  14. cony konstin, October 24, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.

    Soccer in America. Billy Kick it long Bubba. Bubba Kick it long Billy. Run Billy Run. Run Bubba Run. This is typical of soccer in America.

    This is what the US should aspire to. check out this video clip. please share this with everyone. Please everyone have your wives, husbands, sons, daughter, coaches, assistant coaches and everyone else must see this. Is this the greatest team goal ever scored? You decide... The greatest team goal ever scored......
    1minute 34 seconds of uninterrupted possession, all 11 players touch the ball and there are 42 passes before the goal scored. This is how we all need to strive to play.

    We need a soccer revolution in America.

  15. cony konstin, October 24, 2011 at 2:14 p.m.

    Superman The country doesn't need commentary it needs solutions. If you have sound solutions then please share them. US Soccer needs a REVOLUTION. This revolution must come from ideas. Share your ideas so we may have better soccer in America. Meanwhile attacking Paul that he is a racist is totally out of line. If he was then I would join in on your attack but like Ric says nada, zilch, niente nothing about race or nationality. Bubba and Billy Ball ya that is what Paul is talking about. Again check out this video. It will enlighten you in how soccer in America will hopefully look one day.

  16. david caldwell, October 24, 2011 at 3:14 p.m.

    You would expect fans of Juan and US Soccer (like me) to blast Backe's handling of Aguedelo. But even if you set that aside, Red Bulls have been awful this year and Backe deserves much of the blame.
    They have MLS' best scorer (on per game basis) in Henry, a world class passer in Marquez, had/have plenty of other players in the upper realms of the league (Richards, DeRosario, Ream, Juan, Miller, etc) and yet they struggle most of the year.
    All of which points to Backe being a poor manager overall - in addition to mis-handling just one player in Juan. Backe might have a point if NY was performing well...but they're not.

  17. cony konstin, October 24, 2011 at 3:27 p.m.

    Superman It is not a silly comment. It is a mantra( US needs a Soccer REVOLUTION) that needs to be hammered on daily basis. Soccer in America is not a way of life. I want it to be a way of life. Because when it becomes a way of life then we will have amazing and magical soccer players born and raised in the USA no matter what race, color or gender. Meanwhile if you don't like Paul's pointless drivel then don't read his articles anymore.

  18. Rudy Espindola, October 24, 2011 at 9:40 p.m.

    Mr. Super Man, you said this: " The article (and some comments) assume people will play certain ways due to their race, which is nonsensical and offensive " .. my comment: I have never seen Germany playing like Brasil, neither Brasil playing like Germany.
    Cony, thank you for sharing the video of an amazing goal.

  19. cony konstin, October 25, 2011 at 8:47 p.m.

    Superman there are children with Turkish parents who are born in Germany and they don't play the old traditional German style. They play like a Latinos. They are entertaining, creative, and sneaky. That is not typical of German soccer which is very organized, and machine like. Nationality has nothing to do with how you play. It is who you grow up with which usually dictates how your style will evolve. I believe there are influences from all angles. DNA, environment, your family and friends, music, the way you dance, and yes even nationality.

  20. Rudy Espindola, October 28, 2011 at 8:10 a.m.

    right on Cony

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