Photo by Rick Yeatts/ISIphotos.com
By DAVE MARTINEZ
Playing time has been hard to come by for Juan Agudelo in his brief time with the New York Red Bulls, even after his emergence as a striker for the U.S. senior and Under-23 men's national teams. Luke Rodgers' prolonged battle over his United States visa figured to open up some more minutes for the 19-year-old American striker, but his busy international calendar may again prevent him from taking the field for his club even if the English striker cannot rejoin the team.
"He fits in as a striker definitely, there is not a problem at all," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said of his young American prospect. "But of course, he hasn't been training or playing much with us."
Indeed, Agudelo's involvement this preseason with the Red Bulls has been limited. He managed to play all of 15 competitive minutes against Estudiantes Tecos during the Mexican leg of the trip and 45 in Arizona against Real Salt Lake. Though he picked up an ankle injury early in camp, his absence hasn't been due to fitness issues – Agudelo is simply in high demand.
"I see a lot of opportunities and a lot training sessions, because if you think about it, there is the possibility I will be on three teams this year,” Agudelo said after Red Bulls’ practice this week.
The 19-year-old striker will not only be fighting for minutes with his club team, but he'll be playing an integral role with the U.S. Olympic qualifying team — and potential Olympic team — while competing for time on the senior side as well.
So far, Agudelo has enjoyed early success with his loaded 2012 schedule, scoring a goal for the U.S. Under-23 side in a friendly victory over Mexico. After another short stay with the Red Bulls, he will be leaving the club once again this coming Tuesday to rejoin the U-23s as they prepare for CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers against Cuba, Canada and El Salvador.
The opportunity comes at a price. Though he will be available for action against FC Dallas in the season opener this Sunday, Agudelo's international demand will see him miss three of the team’s four opening matches. With Rodgers' absence, that means a potential chance at finding more club minutes will be missed as well.
"We can’t do anything about that," Backe said of Agudelo’s absence. "He had done one session with us since Jan. 16 and played 30 minutes, so that speaks for itself, and then leaving now again for two-and-a-half-weeks or something like that."
Asked whether the team would look into exploring replacement options behind Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper at striker if Rodgers could not return, Backe gave an affirmative.
"It’s a long season," Backe said. "You need at least four strikers. If Luke is a yes, we have enough. If it’s a no, and with Agudelo being away, we will probably have to find another striker."
For his part, Agudelo is simply going with the flow.
"I’m excited about everything, about the possibility on any team," he said. "It is pretty crazy. I guess it’s tough to just come in and play for a while from a coach’s perspective, but I’m going to try to do my best."
Asked where he plans to fit into the Red Bulls’ roster this season, his answer was equally nonchalant.
"There is no plan," he said. "Whatever team decides to take me, I'm just going to follow. I mean, I've been kind of following everybody. Even when we go on trips, in the airport, I always follow somebody. I don't get my own directions. That's just the way my life is and I love it. Just going to whatever comes on the plate."