Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/ USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
Juan Agudelo’s 14-month search for a home and, more importantly, happiness, is finally over, he told reporters Tuesday.
Agudelo’s European adventure has been highly chronicled. Following a myriad of visa issues upon signing for England’s Stoke City, Agudelo was last seen last March in Holland with FC Utrecht. After the forward’s visa was denied yet again in May 2014, Stoke terminated Agudelo’s contract, leaving him a free agent.
The 22-year-old forward remained club-less until last week, when Agudelo signed a contract to return to the New England Revolution, for whom he played for in 2013. Despite all of the frustration and wasted time, Agudelo insists that he does not regret his decision to take a stab at a European career.
“I don’t regret any decision that I made,” Agudelo said Tuesday on a conference call. “It’s unfortunate that a club has made major efforts to try and sign a player that they wanted, but there’s rules out there that prevent a club from getting a player that they like. I don’t regret anything that’s happened the past 14 months.
“I’m just looking forward to coming back to a team like New England again and getting back into the rhythm I left with when I was with New England.”
Agudelo, who cited his ever-growing family as a major factor in the return to the Revs, remained a major admirer of the club, albeit from afar.
The forward continued to follow the club throughout his time in Europe, including in the team’s MLS Cup final loss to the LA Galaxy in December, a game Agudelo said was “unlucky.” That following and familiarity have allowed Agudelo to enter the fray as welcome as ever despite spending over a year away.
“To be honest, it feels like I never left, being welcomed in by familiar faces,” Agudelo said. “It’s been almost as if I’ve never left. Coming into training, I’ve gotten real comfortable with the system pretty fast.
“I love the chemistry in the locker room with the guys and the coaching staff. Having a coach like Jay Heaps, for me as a young player, it’s good to try and embrace it as much as I can. He’s the best coach in the league right now.”
Heaps remained an admirer of Agudelo, as well. The Revs head coach says that the pair remained in contact since the forward departed Gillette Stadium in 2013, leading to Agudelo’s return ahead of the 2015 season.
“I stayed in touch with him from more of an interest level,” Heaps said, “just kind of a care, because I really liked him when he was here and I really like him as a person.
“I think that we wanted to see how everything was going to play out and once, probably in December and January, we started having more dialogue and I think Juan realized there was a really good opportunity here to not only come back to somewhere that he was familiar with, but come back and get playing time and really good playing time with good players around him.”
Heaps, who says that he can see Agudelo playing any one of the club’s three designated forward positions, believes that a return to MLS could and should prove beneficial to Agudelo’s game on both the club and international level.
A firm believer in his forward, Heaps believes Agudelo will return to the U.S. Men’s National Team setup sooner rather than later.
“When he’s at his best,” Heaps said, “when he’s playing well, he should be in that national team camp. He should be a forward that Jurgen is looking at because of the intangibles that he brings on and off the field.”
Agudelo says that, for now, he is trying not to focus on a national team career. The 22-year-old finds it easier to just maintain form on the club level and accept any extra interest as it comes.
“Most importantly, when I was younger, the way I was getting onto the national team was really not thinking about the national team, but focusing on my club efforts to gain playing time and focusing on things on the field,” Agudelo says. “Then, after that comes the rewarding factor of, hopefully, going back onto the national team. I just have to take it a step at a time, but ultimately, it’s one of my goals.”
While representing the U.S. remains a goal, Agudelo’s biggest aim is to find the happiness that has eluded him for a majority of the past 14 months. Finally back with a ball at his feet and a club who believes in him, Agudelo is finally comfortable.
“I just felt after Holland, it was still sort of my time to keep pushing for a certain outcome in Europe,” Agudelo said. “Six months later after that, I just thought it was time to get back onto the field and and do what I’ve loved doing since I was a little boy, which is run around and be on the field and have fun.
“That’s my main happiness and I’m just excited to be really happy again.”