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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

October 31, 2011
Agudelo wastes away on the bench while Red Bulls wastes potential scoring chances

Juan Agudelo not playing a minute in sny of the first two playoff matches has been a great mystery.
Juan Agudelo not playing a minute in sny of the first two playoff matches has been a great mystery.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

The Red Bulls might as well sell Juan Agudelo to a European club because he certainly isn't getting an opportunity to develop with the Major League Soccer club.

I understand why Agudelo isn't starting. When you have the striking likes of Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers up front and the talented Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards on the midfield flanks, there is very little room for him to start outside of an injury or a suspension.

But when the game was on the line and the team needed a goal on Sunday, it just boggles the mind that the 18-year-old Agudelo wasted away on the bench, most likely in frustration, along with some 23,000 spectators who witnessed the Red Bulls go down to the LA Galaxy. They lost, 1-0, in the Western Conference semifinal total goals first leg at Red Bull Arena this past Sunday.

Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, one of the heroes of the 1-0 wildcard win at FC Dallas last week (he set up the goal two minutes after stepping onto the field), replaced Luke Rodgers in the 80th minute as Richards moved up top alongside Henry.

Ballouchy can run more cold than hot.

So can Agudelo, who is still learning his craft at the professional level. But the upside is that he can make things happen and make plays that other players can't.

But as has been his habit, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe refused to use his full complement of three substitutes vs. LA. If Backe had been bold or daring, he could have replaced Rafa Marquez (now that is a real waste of talent, a topic for another column) with Agudelo with 10 minutes left in the game and have Ballouchy move to the middle.

The Red Bulls enter the second leg and the Galaxy's den on Thursday night a goal down. The Galaxy have been virtually invincible at The Home Depot Center, going unbeaten in MLS action this season (12-0-5).

Backe likes to talk about how the Red Bulls beat the Galaxy in Carson, Calif. last year, 1-0. That is true. But that was in 2010. That was then and this is now and the Galaxy is an improved team. With MLS Cup on home turf this year and the bitter memory of getting desposed as Supporter Shield winners in the opening round last year, the Galaxy players have a lot of motivation to defend and play their hearts out on Thursday.

LA starts the final 90 minutes of the total goals series a goal up. Does Backe or any Red Bulls fan in his or her right mind think that the Galaxy will go out and attack from the opening whistle at 11:08 p.m. ET on Thursday night? Knowing LA coach Bruce Arena, he will sit back and wait to counterattack. And if the Galaxy manages to grab a two-goal advantage, I would not be surprised that if Backe finally puts in Agudelo in that situation, it could very well be too late.

If Agudelo is good enough to be in the U.S. National Team pool and play for the red, white and blue, he should be at least good enough to come in off the bench for the Red Bulls late in a match.

Hopefully, Agudelo won't take it personally. He has been mismanaged by Backe down the stretch. In fact, Backe has mismanaged the Red Bulls all season and this is just another incidence of it. Everything is more magnified in the playoffs.

Having Agudelo waste away on the bench is a crying shame.

That is certainly not a fire-able offense. But if you add up all of the other missed opportunities, missed cues, a limited number of substitutions, questionable strategy and other problems the Red Bulls have endured, you have to be blind to know that Backe has down a sub-par job of getting the most out of this team.

Like every other American league, MLS has a coach of the year. I would love to see who is rated as the 18th coach, outside of the ones who have bitten the dust already. Backe surely would be in the running for an honor no one would want to have.

Hopefully, the next coach will give Agudelo his due and playing time.

Sitting at the same podium that Backe addresses the media after Red Buls disappointments at RBA, err, I mean games, U.S. national coach Juergen Klinsmann talked about the talents of Agudelo after the 1-0 loss to Ecuador on Oct. 11.

“We see in Juan a very special talent coming through the ranks,” he said. “He's 18-years-old and has a long way to go, but he's a tremendous talent. We have two plans for him. One is for him to be here and learn from the other players in this squad and get used to a higher intensity training.

“Number two is he will be part of an Olympic team that tries to get to London next summer, and that could be his first big international tournament. Going forward he can only learn and only improve."

Well, at least one of his coaches thinks highly of Agudelo.

I would love to hear what Klinsmann thinks of one of his promising young talents getting stifled. Not playing at a European side is one thing, but not getting a whiff of action at American club is another.

What a waste. What a waste.
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