MISSING: 22-year-old forward — 6-foot-1, 180 pounds; frequently seen wearing hair in a mohawk, scoring goals and celebrating colorfully.
Admit it, you don’t even remember what kind of player once-future-of-the-US-national-team forward Juan Agudelo is, or was.
It’s been eight months since anyone saw the mercurial attacker ply his trade. It’s been 15 months since those of us Stateside watched in awe week after week as Agudelo put in the best three-quarters of a season in his short pro career.
Following a May 2013 trade from Chivas USA, Agudelo went on to score seven goals in 14 appearances for the New England Revolution in the final year of his then-MLS contract. He didn’t just score goals — or great goals — he transformed a floundering Revolution side into a shoo-in playoff team and take the eventual MLS Cup champions all the way to extra time in the conference semifinals of that year’s playoffs.
[ RELATED: Three future stars in current USMNT January camp ]
All the while, Agudelo had one eye on Europe as months earlier, in August, he’d signed a pre-contract deal with Premier League club Stoke City. It was the next logical step for a player who’d shown immense potential for the previous three seasons, and for six shining months in 2013, delivered the kind of performances the American soccer community thought one day possible. His time in England wasn’t, of course, as short-lived as it was non-existent. Unable to initially secure a UK work permit in order to be registered by Stoke, Agudelo was immediately loaned out to Dutch side FC Utrecht.
He spent three semi-successful months in Holland where he eventually rounded into form and scored a pair of goals in his final three appearances for the club. Stoke re-applied for the permit that summer and were again denied, leaving the club with no choice other than to cut ties.
Agudelo hasn’t played in an official game since. He hasn’t tweeted since July 2014. He’s not, to my knowledge, given an interview in the same period, either. So, the question begs asking: What next for the latest USMNT starlet-turned- clubless-castaway?
Clubs in Europe will always be willing to sign a flashy player like Agudelo to a short-term, incentive-laden deal in hopes they’ll be the ones to benefit from any potential arrival on the big stage. More likely, though, he’ll waste away on said club’s reserve team, anxiously awaiting the merciful end of yet another legal binding.
Meanwhile, while Agudelo’s been away, one could argue his value within MLS — and that of high-profiled American players, more so — has skyrocketed as the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore each returned to the league with $6-million-plus-per-year contracts in hand.
Sure, Agudelo’s no Dempsey, Bradley or Altidore, yet(?) — he’s got 18 USMNT caps — but if $6 million is the going rate at the “top” of the American player spectrum, surely signing an Agudelo, who’s three years younger than any of the aforementioned players, or two as Designated Player for $500,000 or even $1 million-per-year (Agudelo made $175,000 in 2013, per MLS Players Union numbers) is the ideal way to build a highly competitive squad without breaking the bank.
[ RELATED: USMNT announces Tax Day friendly with rivals Mexico ]
To this effect, Orlando City SC should have signed Agudelo to be their third DP months ago.
At age 20, though, Agudelo was blinded by the bright lights of “playing in Europe” and, presumably, given poor advice by irresponsible representation that the time to jump to Stoke, the first club who’d come calling, was right. Forget the fact Agudelo was wholly incapable of securing the mandatory work permit, essentially leaving him without a club despite having just signed his first big contract.
He’ll undoubtedly still have aspirations to succeed in Europe, but in terms of securing a sound financial future, the time may never be more perfect to complete a heroic return (can you imagine Agudelo leading the line for that Revs team, which still holds his MLS rights, and just went to MLS Cup without him?) to MLS. The money’s not so bad this side of the Atlantic right now, and hey, if MLS is good enough for Dempsey, Bradley and Altidore’s USMNT prospects, surely the same can be said of Agudelo.