Thursday, May 17, 2012
CHIVAS: Not just Califf; Agudelo, too
By Scott French
Juan Agudelo, only 19, has already looked comfortable playing against older competition.
CARSON -- The Danny Califf trade we've been hearing about the last few days finally came down Thursday, but the big news was that it wasn't the big news.
Chivas USA made two deals, and by far the sexier is rising U.S. national team star Juan Agudelo's acquisition from the New York Red Bulls, a move the Goats have pursued for some time and for which they had to give up plenty.
Off to New York is defender Heath Pearce, a natural left back converted to center back by Chivas, along with allocation money, “future considerations” (almost certainly a percentage of Agudelo's future transfer fee) and, according to the New York Post, an agreement to pay part of Pearce's salary this season.
To replace Pearce, Chivas sent fourth-year winger Michael Lahoud, among the Goats' fastest, smartest and most versatile players, to Philadelphia for Califf, a deal that's been tracked since Union manager Peter Nowak mentioned it Sunday, to Chivas' consternation.
Agudelo and Califf are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday night, train with their teammates for the first time Friday morning, and be available for Saturday night's SuperClasico against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center.
The Colombian-born Agudelo, just 19, has superstar potential. He's big, strong, skilled, with savvy and insight well beyond his years, and his initial success with the U.S. national team -- he scored in his debut a week before his 18th birthday and has looked quite at home against older, more experienced competition -- has him facing heavy expectations from soccer fans across the country and around the world.
Chivas head coach Robin Fraser, looking for something different after his team scored just six goals in a 3-6-1 start to the season, looked to deflect those expectations after signing off on the trade Thursday morning.
“For us to improve our place in the standings, it's about everybody continuing to improve,” he said, “and certainly [Agudelo and Califf] come in and we incorporate everyone and we figure out what's best for the team to go forward. I don't feel it's the type of situation where Juan is being brought in here to save the day. Juan is a good player, and we look forward to seeing him grow and develop, but the onus is still on the team. We have a lot to do as a team.”
Chivas loses one of its most important players in Pearce, an MLS All-Star last year with national team experience, and a player seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough in Lahoud, who was set to start on the right flank before a hamstring injury two days before the Major League Soccer opener sidelined him for nearly two months.
“Reality is you've got to give something to get something,” Kennedy said. “For Mike and Heath, hopefully, these are blessings in disguise for their careers, and they can go and make massive impacts where they're going.”
AGUDELO'S WISH: The deal for Califf, 32, a veteran center back from Orange (Orange HS) with U.S. national team and European club experience, was “pretty far down the road,” Fraser acknowledged, when Nowak revealed last weekend that the Union had received an offer from Chivas, turned it down, then received another offer.
Nowak announced Wednesday the trade had been completed, subject to league approval, but Fraser and Chivas general manager Jose Domene were adamant that it wasn't done. Turns out both were right.
The Califf deal was all but done, but the Goats didn't want to “bite off our nose to spite our face,” Fraser said. They needed the Agudelo deal finalized first, and that didn't happen until Thursday morning.
“There are a lot of things swirling, but certainly it made sense that if we lose a center back [with Pearce going to New York], that we want to bring in a good center back,” Fraser said. “The timing of the moves just worked out so.”
The trade for Agudelo, he said, has been “bantered about for a while.” The forward, who developed in the Red Bulls' academy and signed as a pro at 17, in the meantime was expressing dissatisfaction with his playing time, which hasn't been significant.
Agudelo has made just 13 starts in 32 MLS regular-season appearances in two-plus seasons with New York, averaging less than 19 minutes in 19 substitute calls. He was behind Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers on the Red Bulls' depth chart last season and behind Henry and Kenny Cooper this year, although a knee injury suffered during the U.S.'s Olympic qualifiers left him unavailable for all but the opener and the last three matches.
“We had conversations with Juan for a long period of time about the future and his development,” Red Bulls GM Erik Soler told reporters during a conference call Thursday. “He thought that his chances to develop as a player would be better if he played somewhere else. ... We invested a lot of time and money in him, and we wanted him to stay, but he wanted to try something else, and we support that.”
Agudelo, who figures to depart following Saturday's game for the U.S. national team camp in Florida, a potential absence of about four weeks, joins an increasingly youthful and dynamic Chivas attack. The Goats boast three Colombian forwards -- Juan Pablo Angel, recent arrival Jose Erik Correa, just 21, and Agudelo, who was 7 when his family moved to New Jersey -- plus 21-year-old Ecuadoran attacker Miller Bolaņos, whose influence is deepening.
“We certainly have quite a few forwards,” noted Fraser, who couldn't say that a month ago. “We're certainly excited about the group of forwards that we have. ... We have some young players who the best certainly lies ahead of them, but I don't want it to seem like the weight of the world is on any one of these players' shoulders. There's growth that's going to take place. Certainly, we feel we have a good stable of young forwards, and in time they are all going to be very good.”
It would seem they'd be best in a 4-4-2 formation or perhaps a true 4-3-3, something that emphasizes the attacking talent up front, but Fraser said such considerations would be determined “once we get the group in and we see what it looks like. I'm sure it won't be a question that will be answered in one day ... it will require a little time to figure out what's best.”
Angel was with the Red Bulls during Agudelo's rookie season.
“I'm glad he has the opportunity to come here, and, hopefully, he gets a bit more playing time than he's gotten in the last few years ...,” Angel said. “I think for him, this is going to be an important move.”
Angel said Agudelo, at 17, was “very quiet, trying to pick up everything he possibly can from us. He was always receptive. A lot of things have happened since I last played with him. He has improved as a player, but he has a long ways to go.
“He's a guy that everybody has expectation, but he's not there yet. We would like to help him get to the place where he matures more as a player and he finally starts to play consistently, because he hasn't done it. And that's what we and I'm sure he is looking for.”
KNOWN ENTITY: Califf, the captain and a fan favorite in Philadelphia, wanted to return to California, according to Nowak.
“The most important thing is that he’s going home,” the Union coach said Wednesday in his weekly news conference. “His family is there, and it’s where he’s from, which is comforting for me.”
Fraser, assistant coach Greg Vanney and midfielder Peter Vagenas played alongside Califf with the Galaxy, where Califf started his pro career in 2000.
“He's a stud. He's tough as nails,” Vagenas said. “He's got all the experience in the world. Obviously, he's everything you want in a center back. He's tough, he's good in the air, and he's a winner.”
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy also was enthusiastic: “Danny's a legend. The guy's the complete package.”
Califf underwent knee surgery in December, and he has played in only four of the Union's nine games. Nowak has cited knee and hamstring injuries, although Califf indicated his knee was fine. If he's healthy and able to play at his standard, he's a major pickup for a club that has played pretty well defensively.
“With Heath being gone, we're looking at needing a center back, and Danny is certainly one who has very good experience and is a very charismatic type of player,” Fraser said. “Someone we feel adds a lot of quality to us at that [position], for sure. ... Danny has always been a very honest defender and a very, very good team guy, and he bring loads of experience. When you put all that into a personality that is selfless, I think that is a good thing.”