CHIVAS: Agudelo finds freedom with Goats
CARSON -- It took Juan Agudelo all of an hour, not even that, to feel more at home with Chivas USA than he had in two-plus seasons with his hometown club.
This, he believes, is going to be great.
The 19-year-old striker, the most exciting young player in America, was the big prize in Chivas USA's pick-ups Thursday, a big (6 feet 1, 183 pounds), strong, skilled striker who has impressed with the U.S. national team while wilting under the New York Red Bulls' disinclination to use him.
Heading west, he figures, is the best thing that could have happened for him.
“I was happy in New York,” the Colombian-born forward, who moved with his family to New Jersey when he was 7, said Friday morning following his first training session with the Goats. “I wish things would have worked out better, but I feel like the best place, honestly, for my development was not a team like New York.
“I'm just happy to be here. I truly believe already from the first day here that my development is going to shoot up and the sky's the limit here. I feel valued here.”
He hopes to start repaying Chivas for setting him free Saturday night in the SuperClasico against the Galaxy at HDC. No word from head coach Robin Fraser that he'll be in the starting XI, but don't bet against it.
Fraser and his staff's initial instruction to Agudelo was simple: enjoy yourself.
“They told me go out there, play with a smile and have fun,” Agudelo said. “That's really all I need to hear to excel myself. I just want to have that free feeling. I feel like I understand how the game is and the things I have to do to help out the team, and it was awesome for them to give me that freedom.”
Just looking around, he felt at home.
“A lot of Hispanics here,” he noted. “It's awesome. To feel welcomed. A lot of Colombians, [the team will] speak Spanish, English. It's great. It's got a little bit of flavor from my hometown [Manizales] in Colombia. ... It's a South American-kind-of-style team, and I think it's great because it's somewhere I feel like I fit in.”
He didn't fit in with the Red Bulls, who have a European owner, European GM, European coach and a bunch of European players -- and little use for a South American player with different qualities that need to be refined.
“I just feel like that wasn't the place for development,” he said. “[Head coach Hans Backe] really enjoyed experienced [players], and I guess I just wasn't in his plans.”
Backe, a Swede, gave him only 15 starts and not quite 1,800 minutes in two seasons and two months. And the training sessions, Agudelo says, weren't particularly conducive to development. Joining Chivas, Agudelo says, offers an opportunity for him to grow into the player everyone seems to envision him becoming.
“That's probably the thing that excites me the most,” Agudelo said, “because I feel like already here I'm developing and ... it's, like, a different feeling. It feels like how I feel when the national team, when I run with them. That's how it feels here, with the training and the coaching. I feel like I'm going to be the player that I am with the national team with my club.”
How does U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann feel about the move?
“He loves it,” Agudelo said. “I knew he would love it because it's a thing he has talked to me about that he would love for me to get more minutes and more experience in game situations.”
Fraser was pleased with what he saw, too.
“You see what you expect to see,” he said. “Juan's a dynamic attacking player and certainly is a kid that likes to play. He brings that joy when he steps on the field, and that's exciting for us to see.”
Agudelo's arrival will almost certainly change how Chivas lines up while heating competition for minutes up front. The Goats are expected to change to a 4-4-2 alignment -- they've used midfield-heavy 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations (that last 1 is a lone forward) -- and Fraser must figure out how to balance time for two young, rising stars (Colombian youngster Jose Erik Correa just arrived three weeks ago), two veterans who will serve as mentors (Juan Pablo Angel and Alejandro Moreno), and a pair of rookies (Casey Townsend and Cesar Romero) who have, as expected, been hit and miss so far.
Angel, also Colombian, was with the Red Bulls during Agudelo's first year and “is kind of like a big mentor for me. I thank him for all the help he's given me so far, and I just hope we can keep on keeping on here the same thing we were doing in New York, 'cause he's a person I can make myself a sponge and learn a lot off of, and I'm really excited to learn.”
The relationship will be different with Chivas, he knows. He's got more experience -- with 15 full U.S. caps -- and has grown as a player. “I think [it will be] for the better. With the freedom we have here, it's just a lot less tense here.”
Fraser noted that neither Agudelo nor defender Danny Califf, acquired in a separate trade Thursday, “was brought here to save the day.” The Goats are 3-6-1, one point out of the cellar and winless in home games. They've scored just six times in 10 games and are starving for goals.
“Yes, I've heard,” Agudelo said when told of Chivas' scoring woes. What can he do to change that?
“Doesn't have to be me scoring goals,” he said. “It could be me giving assists and giving the ball to players in better position to score goals. I just feel we've got to create more chances than we have in the past.”
WORTH NOTING: This is more than just a trade for Agudelo -- he's leaving home. For real: He's been living with his parents in Barnegat Township, in south New Jersey. “That was really the only part [of the trade] I was kind of cautious about, moving away from home, but I think I can handle it,” he said. “It's a good learning experience for me to try to move to a place where I can handle myself, pay bills by myself, stuff like that. Not looking forward to it, but I know it will help me out in the long run.” ... Agudelo says his left knee, which required surgery after he tore his meniscus during the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in March, is fine and that “probably a week ago I was 90-minutes available.” ...
Chivas plays Wednesday at New York, and Agudelo says going back to Red Bull Arena is “going to be a little weird, because it's happening so quickly” but that he expects a positive reception. “I had great support from them from the past, and I think they felt the same way that other people felt with my playing time and with regard to my situation there.” ... Will he make it to New York? MLS players are expected to join the U.S. national team camp in Florida on Monday, with the names announced Sunday. Fraser indicated that Agudelo likely would be leaving, probably until mid-June, for three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers, but the forward said he didn't know if he was called up and had no concrete plans to go to Florida. ...
Agudelo made 13 MLS regular-season starts and two starts in playoff games, as a rookie in 2010, while in New York. He played in 33 league games in all, scoring six goals, all of them last season. ... He's made four appearances this year with one start, on opening day, and played 182 minutes in all.