Juan Agudelo of the U.S. battles for the ball with Renay Malblanche of Cuba during their CONCACAF Olympic qualifying soccer match in Nashville

How many things had to come together for somebody like Juan Agudelo to be traded?

Leave a comment

In other sports, Juan Agudelo would be almost untouchable. His talent-to-cost ratio would be too high to deal, especially in a league with strict spending restrictions. He’d be on this first/rookie deal, not arbitration eligible, would still have options. Whatever metaphor you want to use, it’d be hard to craft a scenario where trading such a talented 20-year-old is justifiable.

And despite a year’s worth of speculation surrounding his status in New York, Agudelo was barely touchable in New York. Backtracking through the year-and-a-half since he burst onto the scene in Cape Town, six facets had to coincide to foster this remarkable (if slightly expected) deal.

Flash potential, but leave them wanting more

Becoming the youngest scorer in national team history is more than a flash, but for most, Agudelo’s Nov. 17, 2010 goal against South Africa was their first exposure to the Colombia-born attacker. It’s hard to put a moment like that on a blank canvas and not see imaginations run wild, especially with Agudelo’s speed, movement and skill fueling that dream.

To this point, that vision has stayed a dream. Agudelo has two goals in 15 national team appearances, and only six in 33 games for the Red Bulls. They’re impressive numbers for a 20-year-old (to put it in perspective, 19-year-old Jack McInerney has four goals in 40 games for Philadelphia), but combined with South Africa, the numbers have left national team fans wanting more.

A national team rise fuels expectations (and value)

Agudelo may not have been scoring goals, but he kept getting called into the national team. Further fueling dreams, he was actually playing. The exposure made it hard to accept his status with New York as something other than an aberration – the product of an equation being influenced by something strange going on with Red Bull. What was that strange thing? Some guessed (and tried to tie those reasons into New York’s historical lack of success), but we really don’t know.

But why New York was the aberration and not the national team? New coach at the beginning of a World Cup cycle trying to see what he has on the shelf – that seems like the more likely scenario to produce some debatable selections.

In the U.S., the national team has always held a lot of sway regarding how players are perceived (see Donovan v. Dempsey, Howard v. Freidel). Agudelo was a comer for the national team. Therefore, he was valuable.

Coach ignores national team hype (while league does not)

Hans Backe wasn’t buying it, though. Agudelo’s club coach just didn’t seem to rate the kid, and if he did, he didn’t rate Agudelo above Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Kenny Cooper (or, going back to when Agudelo debuted in 2010, Juan Pablo Angel, Macoumba Kandji, and Salou Ibrahim). Particularly when the Henry-Rodgers duo was at its best, Backe had no reason to use Agudelo as more than an impact sub. When Backe responded to attackers’ injuries by shifting to 4-5-1 from 4-4-2 (electing to play Mehdi Ballouchy instead of Agudelo), his evaluation was clear.

The broader world of Major League Soccer, on the other hand, has every reason to love Agudelo. He is still only 20. If he was blocked at Red Bull, it doesn’t matter. At least, in the big picture, it doesn’t. MLS has every reason to think time and Agudelo’s talent will see their homegrown, national team star become a key figure for the league.

Explore move abroad that wouldn’t happen

During the winter, Agudelo was linked with moves abroad, with rumors telling of interest from clubs in Germany and England. It made sense, for both club and player. New York cashes in on their homegrown talent while Agudelo gets an opportunity most players can only dream of. Sure, opinion was mixed on Agudelo’s value, but all it takes is one team to buy into the potential for New York to be looking at another Jozy Altidore-esque payday.

It’s unclear what would have been in it for the league, though. Major League Soccer doesn’t have a history of selling early on talent, particularly when the player has a reasonable U.S. national team profile (Altidore being a notable exception). If somebody was going to break the bank for Agudelo, of course there’d be interest. But it’s difficult for a buyer to justify breaking the bank for a player who’s not getting a regular shift.

Become available after teams have laid their 2012 plans

While he headed into an uncertain 2012 – not unknowing how much he would play amid the Luke Rodgers’ saga and the Kenny Cooper acquisition – Agudelo injured his ankle. Then, while with the U.S. U-23 team, he hurt his knee. He was sidelined for a month.

By the time he was back, teams’ rosters had fallen into place, with a slew of attacking talent coming to the league. Seattle (Eddie Johnson), Portland (Kris Boyd), LA (Edson Buddle), Dallas (Blas Pérez), D.C. (Hamdi Salihi), New England (Saer Sene), and Philadelphia (Lionard Pajoy) all added strikers, and while most teams in the league would love to have Agudelo, the reality of Major League Soccer means it’s hard to stockpile talent.

The league’s rules and make it difficult to justify acquiring excessive depth at one position, particularly if you’re asked to give up something in return. Sure, Real Salt Lake (for example) could use Juan Agudelo, but would they want to give up a Chris Schuler to do so?  They’re left to make a title run hoping neither Jamison Olave nor Nat Borchers go down while sitting four or five deep a forward.

Somebody to steps forward

Eventually, the right scenario presented itself. After acquiring Danny Califf from Philadelphia, Chivas USA had some notable defensive talent to spare, something that matched defender-challenged New York’s needs. They also had a problem scoring goals and could offer Agudelo immediate playing time. Willing to throw in a slew of ancillary incentives (allocation money, percentage of potential sale) to Heath Pearce, Chivas USA finally had a package that could make New York move.

All of which was augmented by Erik Soler’s reported belief that Agudelo wanted to move. Faced with that preference, it’s hard to turn down a trade that sends a backup away for a player that immediately slots into your starting XI.

Absent any of these six factors, Juan Agedulo might still be in New York. His trade was the function of expectation, evaluation, depth, rules and timing. It’s the type of confluence you need to see a 20-year-old national teamer dealt mid-season.

Altidore earns U.S. Male Player of the Year honors, Pulisic wins Young POY

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) reacts after scoring against the Montreal Impact during the first half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

While Jozy Altidore and his Toronto FC side have the chance to take home MLS Cup on Saturday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team forward earned an award of his own in the build up.

[ MORE: MLS commissioner Garber addresses expansion and more ]

On Friday night, U.S. Soccer named Altidore the federation’s Male Player of the Year for 2016, while Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has won Male Young Player of the Year honors.

Altidore takes home Male POY honors for the second time in his career after first winning the award back in 2013.

Altidore narrowly won POY honors with 32 percent of the vote, beating out Bobby Wood (30 percent) and Geoff Cameron (15 percent).

“This is truly an honor to receive this award. It’s also very humbling when you look at such a talented group of teammates nominated for this accolade along with you,” Altidore said. “At the end of the day, any success I have had on the field this year is in large part due to their success and contributions.”

The 27-year-old Altidore scored 10 goals for TFC during the regular season, before adding five goals and four assists for the MLS side ahead of MLS Cup. In his time with the USMNT, Altidore has netted six goals and two assists in 2016, leading all players.

Pulisic found the net three times this year for the USMNT, while excelling in the Bundesliga with Dortmund. The 18-year-old has made 15 appearances in all competitions this season for the German giants and scored two goals for Thomas Tuchel’s squad.

Russian official Mutko seeks to retain FIFA Council seat

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko attends at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot final choice event at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) Under fire for his role in Russia’s state doping program, Vitaly Mutko has begun the process of a FIFA integrity check to be an election candidate.

[ MORE: Can Spurs overcome their historic results form at Old Trafford? ]

Mutko, who heads Russian operations to organize the 2018 World Cup, has been elected by European soccer leaders since 2009 to represent them on FIFA’s ruling committee.

[ MORE: Man City visits Leicester with two sides on opposite ends of table ]

His FIFA seat is due for re-election in April, though potential candidates must pass a vetting and eligibility check by a review panel appointed by the world soccer body.

On Friday, Mutko was implicated in widespread evidence detailed by Canadian investigator Richard McLaren that he oversaw a state-backed doping program as sports minister.

Hours later, UEFA said Mutko was among five applicants for four vacant seats on the FIFA Council. The April 5 vote is by 55 European member federations.

Mutko has retained his FIFA positions and presidency of the Russian soccer federation since McLaren’s interim report was published in July.

The World Anti-Doping Agency then called on the FIFA ethics committee to investigate Mutko based on McLaren’s evidence.

The full investigation report release on Friday seemed to confirm that Mutko was asked to cover up a positive doping test by a Russian Premier League player from Uzbekistan.

Mutko was also implicated as sports minister in overseeing widespread doping programs of Russian athletes who competes at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2013 track and field world championships, held in Moscow.

It is unclear if FIFA’s ethics committee has a mandate to prosecute non-soccer cases.

Asked on Friday if UEFA could launch its own investigation of Mutko, leaders of the European body deferred to FIFA’s ongoing vetting process.

“We have written to FIFA with the five potential candidates and the procedure is FIFA has to go through this eligibility check,” UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said.

Bell acknowledged that the McLaren report “appears to contain some serious allegations” though noted that “these are contested.”

Three of Mutko’s long-standing colleagues are standing down from their FIFA Council seats from Europe: Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, Senes Erzik of Turkey, and Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus.

UEFA said the other election contenders are: Sandor Csanyi, a current UEFA executive committee member from Hungary; Geir Thorsteinsson, president of Iceland’s soccer federation; former AC Milan player Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro; and Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the Cyprus federation president.

Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 06:  Arda Turan of Barcelona (R) celebrates with Lucas Digne as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Camp Nou on December 6, 2016 in Barcelona, .  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

[ MORE: Man City faces Leicester without Aguero, Fernandinho ]

With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

[ MORE: Watford, Everton meet with both clubs looking to halt poor form ]

The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.

State of the League: Garber addresses expansion, Beckham Miami and more

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09:  Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber talks during day four of the Soccerex - Manchester Convention at Manchester Central on September 9, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Daniel Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As Major League Soccer gears up for Saturday night’s massive final in Toronto, league commissioner Don Garber addressed the media in the buildup with his annual State of the League address on Friday.

[ MORE: 3 key battles to watch in Saturday’s MLS Cup final ]

Among the topics discussed were expansion, the demise of NASL and what MLS is doing to attract younger players to United States.

[ MORE: Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro to make MLS move ]

As it has been in the past, expansion was the biggest discussion on the docket, with Garber stating that next week will likely determine a timeline for the league’s next entries.

“As you probably know it is strategic expansion,” Garber said during Friday’s MLS State of the League address. “Following our board meeting on Thursday in New York, we will announce a process and a timeline for our next round of expansion, which will add clubs 25, 26, 27 and 28 to Major League Soccer.”

David Beckham’s Miami franchise is currently tabbed as the league’s 24th entry, following Minnesota and Atlanta in 2017 and Los Angeles FC in 2018, however, the future of Beckham’s project remains very much up in the air.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In the event that Miami is passed over, there are plenty of teams waiting in the wings to claim its spot. Sacramento, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit and San Diego are among the many destinations currently vying for entry into MLS, however, Sacramento and Cincinnati remain very high on the list after seeing recent success and growth in USL.

“There is a deadline on the Miami deal. I am not going to share that deadline, it is an agreement we have with David and (his business partner) Simon Fuller,” Garber said in regards to the Miami plans.

“But … we need to resolve the Miami situation so that we can go forward with our expansion plans for (expansion) teams 25-28 because they are team 24 and if they are not going to be 24 there are going to be a lot of things that need to move around and it is something we will discuss at our board meeting.”

When Garber was asked about the decline of NASL and particularly the status of the New York Cosmos and whether MLS would ever consider allowing the franchise to join, he stated that the league has no intentions of adding a third New York/New Jersey team.

“As it relates to the Cosmos, it’s a great brand,” said Garber. “We have two teams in MLS in New York. We are not going to have a third team.”

Additionally, Garber also noted that the league has no intentions of changing the MLS playoff format or adding an additional Designated Player spot for each club’s disposal. However, the commissioner did confirm that teams will see an increase of $400,000 each in target allocation money (TAM) in 2017, bringing the total per club up to $1.2 million.