Juan Agudelo signs for Stoke City, joins Premier League in January

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Make that four US national team players now playing in the red and white for Premier League side Stoke City.

Four.

20-year-old forward Juan Agudelo has signed a pre-contract agreement with Mark Hughes’ side and will join the Potters in January after the 2013 Major League Soccer season has finished.

Stoke might as well add a few stars to their red and white striped jerseys. They’re the new “Fulhamerica.” How about the “United States of Stoke”… anyone?

Ahem, so,  Agudelo — currently playing for the New England Revolution after joining from Chivas USA — is signing for Stoke on a free transfer after his contract with MLS runs out on December 31. Losing the talented young forward for absolutely zilch is a big blow for MLS. There’s no doubt about it. He came up through the New York Red Bulls academy and shone for the US before he ever did in MLS. To get nothing in return for all that development, baring a few possible dollars for training fees, is a travesty.

After bursting onto the scene for USA at the age of 17, Colombian born Agudelo has flitted from club to club in recent seasons and has struggled to find a settled home in the US. Now he will turn his attentions abroad to try and fulfill his undoubted potential.

(MORE: Juan Agudelo will join Stoke City in January)

While Stoke’s penchant for signing American internationals continues, with Geoff Cameron, Brek Shea and Maurice Edu all on the books at the Staffordshire club. During the Potters preseason tour of the US this summer, plenty of rumors were flying around about Agudelo possibly linking up with Hughes’ team and now it’s legit.

Hughes has been a long-time admirer of the speedy American forward, with Agudelo catching Hughes’ eye whilst he was Manchester City’s manager a few years ago. He’s kept close tabs on him since and is delighted to add Agudelo to his ranks.

We’ve put a lot of work into this deal, and I am delighted that we have managed to get the deal over the line. It’s a good deal for us, because he is a very good young player who boasts a lot of talent as well as a lot of potential too.

I’ve known of him for a couple of years now. He burst on to the scene for the United States at the age of 17 and everybody has paid attention to him since. I have kept my eye on him for the last 18 months, and thankfully we were in a position where we were able to pull this deal off.

So Hughes is a massive fan and Agudelo will surely get time to develop and become a regular. And Stoke’s Chief Executive Tony Scholes sung Major League Soccer’s praises, saying that Stoke have been “consistently impressed with the quality we’ve come up against” after playing against five MLS teams in the past two years.

(MORE: Premier League Preview, Stoke City)

With Agudelo highly rated at Stoke, his pace and youthful exuberance will likely see him feature when he turns up in January. Playing alongside fellow USMNT buddies Shea, Cameron and Edu will help the youngster settle in. And heading into a World Cup year, if he does well at Stoke then Jurgen Klinsmann’s selection headache will intensify.

I remember speaking to Agudelo two years ago when he played for the Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup at Arsenal’s stadium. He said then that playing in Europe was where he wanted to be. Now he’s got it. Well, from January at least.

But with everyone singing the praises of Major League Soccer for acquiring Clint Dempsey from Tottenham, should we worry about losing another young talent to the Premier League?

Maybe Clint’s move will stop this from happening in the future, or maybe this switch isn’t significant and in the grand scheme of things, Agudelo’s departure won’t matter…

Just a thought.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.