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

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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.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.