Juan Agudelo plans on having the last laugh.
Red Bulls Director of Communications Brian Tsao called up Agudelo two weeks ago to tell the young striker MLS commissioner Don Garber had tabbed him for tomorrow’s MLS All-Star Game. Agudelo laughed on the phone.
“I thought he was joking,” Agudelo said.
Tsao, however, was serious.
Now in his second year in MLS, the Red Bulls 18-year old forward is enjoying a solid season.
While Agudelo isn’t among the league leaders in goals scored, it is his potential that led Garber to name him to the game.
“I was really surprised,” Agudelo said. “I’m really happy that I’m going to be there with all those guys.”
Agudelo has endured some rough patches.
Head coach Hans Backe has openly wondered if it is too much, too soon for Agudelo. Every few years, a new American attacker is anointed the next Pele. In 2004, it was Freddy Adu, who has still failed to live up to his potential. Then a couple years later, it was Jozy Altidore, an imposing forward who was sold too quickly to European power Villareal and is on his fifth European club with little success.
“Please let him grow his own way,” Backe said of the mounting interest and pressure around Agudelo. “He’s 18 years old.”
Agudelo will likely see some minutes in the second half as the MLS All-Stars take on famed club Manchester United. Agudelo was born in Colombia, but spent many of his formative years in New Jersey. He says that making his All-Star debut in his home state is “sweeter” but that he still needs to get 15 tickets for friends and family.
Agudelo is a difficult read. He admits that his teammates like to prank him, one time hiding one of his cleats before practice, causing him to scramble around looking for the missing shoe. He’s part gullible, part naive and yet fully willing to laugh at himself with a maturity most adults lack.
And he’s also cunning.
“Oh, I’ve got a prank in the works to get them back, but I’m saving it for the end of the season,” Agudelo said. “That way I can turn around and run and not have to worry about coming back for a while.”