Photo by ISIphotos.com
As the steady flow of fans walked up to Juan Pablo Angel at an autograph signing session at Premier Soccer Shop in Hoboken, you could see a player enjoying the off-season. Sporting a beard and his trademark smile, Angel greeted his fans as he stole peaks of the big-screen TV showing Jozy Altidore play in Spain.
Angel's demeanor went from relaxed to clearly excited when asked about the Red Bulls and their prospects going forward into 2009. In an exclusive interview with SBI, Angel sounded like a man intent on returning to the Red Bulls in 2009 and one who sources say wants to stay with the club beyond 2009.
When asked about his future with the Red Bulls, Angel reiterated the same comments he made after the Red Bulls' MLS Cup loss to Columbus, that he would like to come back but that it would remain to be seen what exactly would happen. He would not discuss the details of his contract, offering only a "We'll see" when pressed on what he thought would happen (Team sources have told SBI that Angel is under contract for the 2009 season and is expected to play.)
"We have to sit down and see what the team's plans are," Angel said. "I've enjoyed my time here, but as a professional you never know what will come or what the club's plans are, so we will see."
Angel's non-committal statements aside, hesounded like a player focused on 2009, stressing the positives of last season and the potential impact of the team's surprising playoff run. If he is planning on leaving MLS any time soon, Angel sure didn't sound like it.
"We were able to do very good things as a group and there is a chance now to build on that," said Angel . "We have players, but the club knows what needs to be done. We need to strengthen the club and put it in a situation where it can succeed every year, and not just get to the final one year and then not make the playoffs the next year."
Sources close to Angel tell SBI that the 33-year-old Colombian striker is actually seeking an extension beyond 2009 and would like to finish his career with the Red Bulls. It remains unclear whether the Red Bulls are strongly considering the extension, but it would be hard to argue against giving a long-term contract to a player who has scored 33 goals in two seasons and essentially carried the Red Bulls into the playoffs this year with an amazing second half of the season.
Angel also addressed rumors about his injury status during the playoffs, admitting that he played the Western Conference final and MLS Cup final with a hip injury that limited him. The Red Bulls did not disclose the injury at the time, but it did affect Angel's ability to play his best.
"I was injured, but it wasn't something that was going to keep me from playing," Angel said. "With each week, as we kept on winning, it makes you fight that much harder and want to be on the field.
"It wasn't easy getting of bed," Angel said when asked how he felt after the season."
As for the subject of the Red Bulls' second designated player slot, which head coach Juan Carlos Osorio admitted last week that he would prefer to trade, Angel agreed with Osorio's assessment and believes the club would be better served by dealing the slot for multiple reinforcements.
"The team has more needs than one player can help," Angel said. "If you look at the successful teams in this league they are teams with good depth and if you can make a trade to bring in a few players who can help then I think that can do more for a team then bringing in just one player."
Whether the team trades the DP slot or not, Angel just wants the 2009 Red Bulls to be a team that can improve on a 2008 season filled with adversity, but one that ended with a magical run to the MLS Cup final.
"When you make it to a final, it is an experience you want to have over and over," Angel said. "Hopefully after making it this year, the experience will motivate our team and our players to want to make it a habit, and not something that only happens once."