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?

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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.

Jozy Altidore’s foundation funding Copa America watch parties in Haiti

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Jozy Altidore has never shied away from his Hatian decent, and while the 26-year-old will miss the Copa America, but his second home certainly won’t.

Altidore’s charity organization the St. Luke Foundation has set up watch parties across Haiti so the island nation can watch all the United States and Haiti matches, as well as the semifinals and finals.

In a phone interview with Sports Illustrated, Altidore cited that Haiti had not been invited to a major international tournament since 1974, and that the country should be able to watch. According to SI, the watch parties will allow those in the country to watch who otherwise would be unable to do so.

“I thought this would be something cool knowing how much Haitian people love their national team” Altidore told SI, “to have thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see the matches broadcast the group games and see them perform.”

Haiti plays in Brazil’s Group B along with Peru and Ecuador, with group stage games on June 4, 8, and 12.

[ MORE: Copa America Group B preview | USA in Group A ]

Altidore will miss the tournament due to a hamstring injury which will take 6-8 weeks to recover from.

The New Jersey product has been very active with charity work in Haiti in the past, mostly through his foundation. Altidore’s parents were both born in Haiti. He said he hopes that the Haitian team “can surprise some people” in the upcoming tournament.

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
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This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide