For 19-year-old Juan Agudelo, this by no means was a “dream debut.”
Traded to Chivas USA from the New York Red Bulls this week, the Colombian born US International started out wide on the left in a 4-3-3 formation. At first, Agudelo looked a bit isolated as the Goats continuously elected to attack down the right through the very dangerous Miller Bolaños.
It was Bolaños that gave Agudelo the chance to mark his arrival at the back post midway through the first half, but the new recruit headed the Ecuadorian’s cross tamely into the arms of Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Perk.
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In the second half, Agudelo switched over to the right side so he could have more room to go forward after Galaxy right back Sean Franklin forced him into a more defensive role throughout the first 45.
On the right, Agudelo found the ball a bit more and always looked to run at his defender (something American attackers don’t do enough of) but usually lost the one v. one battle.
Despite keeping his position well, strong running and having the confidence and desire to create off the dribble, Agudelo’s debut was looking a bit inauspicious.
That is until the 70th minute when he marked his arrival by displaying his talents, strength and ariel ability. Agudelo beat Perk in the box to Oswaldo Minda’s floated ball and won the header that put the Galaxy shot stopper in no-man’s land. Fellow Goats forward, Jose Correa soon found the ball and struck a volley at the empty net. Galaxy defender David Junior Lopes saved the shot on the line with his hand, leading to a straight red card and a penalty, which Correa finished not once, but twice. Correa's first PK conversion was called back as one of the Chivas players crossed into the box too soon (before Correa made contact with the ball).
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Six minutes later, Agudelo’s night was done, but he had marked his arrival by making an impact at the most vital moment of the match.
So much had been made of the New York Red Bull’s hesitation to use Agudelo and the lack of minutes hindering his development. With Chivas USA, however, the prodigious talent feels he finally has a place where he can grow.
“What they [the coaching staff] want out of me is exactly what I was looking for. Freedom. They told me to play with a smile on my face and that just sets me off,” Agudelo said in the locker room after his first game in the Chivas USA stripes.
Despite being inserted straight into the starting XI, Agudelo knows that the minutes, and a system which offers a newfound freedom to attack and run at defenders is a privilege and not a right. There are still adjustments that need to be made.
“It’s a different playing style, a different team. I just think over time it will get better and better with me finding those pockets of space and getting used to the way other players play so that I know where I should be when I receive the ball.”
The next question for Agudelo is whether he is going right back to New York to face his old club for Chivas' next MLS match, or to the National team who are preparing for upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. Either way, his potential is no longer limited.
Danny Califf had a very quiet debut, which is EXACTLY what you want as a center back. In his first game since joining in a midweek trade from the Philadelphia Union, the former Galaxy man looked like he had been a member of the Chivas back-line since preseason.
Always in position and in unison with the other three backs, Califf and his charges forced the Galaxy offside on four occasions and never looked suspect in playing the trap. His spacing with central defensive partner Rauwshan McKenzie was spot on. The two were only carved open twice (albeit briefly) around the hour mark.
Just like the youngster Agudelo, a trade to Chivas offered the veteran an opportunity to escape a toxic situation in Philadelphia where his relationship with Union head coach Peter Nowak turned sour.
“There was a lot of stuff that went on [in Philadelphia]. A lot of thing’s I wasn’t to happy about, but I’ve come here and I feel like its almost a new lease on life,” a smiling Califf told the media while standing next to his new locker after the game. “A new chance to step in and play for some guys I really respect as players, because I played with them, but also as coaches. A staff that I am extremely comfortable with.”
The 32-year-old played for the Galaxy from 2000-2004, lining up alongside Robin Fraser, Greg Vanney, and Simon Elliott, now the Chivas USA head coach, assistant coach, and technical director/head scout respectively.
“I feel like it’s almost an old Galaxy reunion when I walk in the door so that has made the transition a whole lot easier for me.”
After dealing with Nowak's drama, Califf sees no similar issues playing for Fraser because unlike his old boss, his new one tells it like it is.
“I think honesty is probably one of the most important qualities. As long as he [the coach] is honest with you, you don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to necessarily like what he says, but you have to respect the fact he is man enough to tell you how he feels. He [Fraser] is not afraid to tell you how he feels even if he knows you might not like it or you might not agree with it. I think that’s the very least you can ask of a manager. Just be honest with me. If you’re going to make this decision, okay, I’m a professional. I have to live with that whether I agree with it or not, but just be honest. It’s quite refreshing.”
Quite refreshing indeed, not only for Califf and Agudelo in their new surroundings, but also for Chivas USA who won the Super Classico (1-0) for the first time since August 23rd, 2007. The Goats now head to pastures outside the Big Apple feeling that tonight’s three points, spearheaded by their new recruits, may just be the turning point in their season.
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