Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
The life of a professional soccer player can change in just a moment.
One well-timed pass or run can change a player's life. In the case of Juan Agudelo, a goal in the 85th minute of a November friendly vs. South Africa catapulted him into a new reality. The 18-year-old New York Red Bulls academy product had impressed his club enough to appear in the Red Bulls final four matches of 2010, including both playoff games against the San Jose Earthquakes.
These two performances led to the forward being called up for the U.S. team's' match against Chile on January 22nd. Seen by many as a potential star in the making, Agudelo will likely play a large part in the upcoming date with Chile.
Despite being seen as a top prospect for the Red Bulls and the United States this sudden rise has been a bit overwhelming for the 18-year old.
"My whole life has changed," said Agudelo. "I don't want anything to distract me from my game because I know that has happened to some players and I don't want that to happen to me so I just need to continue to do what I've done my entire life by focusing on what happens on the field and leaving the rest off of it."
Agudelo's rise has led to many to compare him to Jozy Altidore, another Red Bulls product, who has developed into the U.S.' first choice forward while playing for Spanish side Villarreal. Throughout Altidore's career, he has battled expectation due to his sudden rise and there is concern that Agudelo may face much of the same scrutiny.
Bradley has been keenly aware of this rise in expectations for Agudelo and a number of his other youngsters. In order to temper any expectations, Bradley has had to resort to a number of different tactics depending on the player. For Bradley, having Agudelo balance his time between Thomas Rongen's side and the full squad is necessary to keep his young forward grounded.
"There's a lot going on for him right now," said Bradley. "It's our job to make sure that he understands that keeping humble and how to continue to work and improve and earn the respect of his teammates and so far he's responded well."
2011 is shaping up to be a seminal year for the young forward's aspirations in a U.S. jersey. In addition to Saturday's match, Agudelo figures to be a key contributor to the U.S. U-20 World Cup team for the tournament in his native Colombia in late July. Agudelo and the U-20s begin their qualifying run in April in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Guatemala.
To add to the already bloated fixture list for the youngster, he is also considered a dark horse to join the U.S. Gold Cup squad. Balance all these potential commitments with being a focal point in the Red Bulls in 2011 and you have the makings of a very important year for the youngster. Despite the added pressure, Agudelo's maturity and his relationship with Bradley is what helps keeps him grounded as he prepares for what could be called by many to be the biggest year of his young life.
"[Bradley] is a great guy and I like his personality because he really cares for his players," said Agudelo. "He told me to stay humble and keep my feet on the ground so that I can stay focused."