Former New York forward Juan Pablo Angel, a consummate professional in his time with the club, marks his return to Red Bull Arena tonight, this time with Chivas USA.
Angel was the second ever designated player signed by the Red Bulls, the mechanism commonly referred to as the “David Beckham Rule,” which allows MLS teams to sign marquee names.
“I loved my time here. I have a lot of respect for the fans, that they embraced me and treated me well right from the beginning. I come in now with a different badge on my chest,” Angel said. “It’s emotional.”
Angel came to the league with a strong pedigree in England’s Premier League and a record of scoring goals for his country, but he never rested on his laurels. Instead, he became team captain through his tireless work and production on the field.
“If you came here at 8:30 and we have training at 10 or 10:30, Juan was already in the gym sweating, and working out,” Thierry Henry said. “That’s him. He does the same thing on holiday. That’s the type of person he is.”
It was his constant passion that quickly won over the fans.
“I honestly don’t know what is going to be the reception, but the one thing I can tell you is that I have a lot of respect and appreciation for what they did for me,” Angel said. “They welcomed me with open arms.”
Following the 2010 season, the club cut ties with Angel, choosing not to renew his contract. He signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but struggled and was traded midseason to Chivas USA.
Angel has yet to make a return trip to Red Bull Arena to be saluted by the New York fans because the Galaxy didn’t travel to the area till late in the year and Chivas USA played the Red Bulls in May.
On Wednesday night, the Red Bulls’ hardcore supporters in the “South Ward” are planning a display to honor the legendary No. 9. Henry sees and understands why.
“I’ll be honest, I was a bit upset with myself when I came here. I wanted to give him more, but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have the preparation; I came here too early,” Henry said.
“That was very difficult for me to handle, but I wanted to please him and make him stay longer here and score more goals. But you know, he had to go, for some reason, you can ask him about it. But he was a great guy — a great guy in the dressing room, a great professional.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.