Red Bulls Trade Juan Agudelo to Chivas USA for Heath Pearce, Three Forms of Cash

In a move that has many of their faithful shaking—or scratching—their heads, the New York Red Bulls shipped 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, a Red Bull Academy product and fan-favorite, to Chivas USA in exchange for 27-year-old defender Heath Pearce, allocation money, a percentage of Agudelo’s sell-on fee (if/when he goes to Europe), and the assurance that Chivas will pay part of Pearce’s salary for the remainder of the season.

The conventional wisdom on this one went from “What?!” to “Oh, wait, this is a great deal for New York,” to “Well, now that Chivas has swung a deal for defender Danny Califf, too, this is a good deal for both sides,” in about 20 nanoseconds—or a few clicks of ‘refresh’ on Twitter.

But we’re not ready to say this is a great deal for New York until we see what their next move is: Are they going to use the influx of capital to swoop for a young, attacking designated player-type (or two) from Europe in the summer transfer window? Are they banking on the return of Luke Rogers to fill out their now-depleted forward ranks?

Whatever the case, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they gave up on Agudelo too soon. Sure, they’re getting a solid defender in Pearce, who has 35 caps for the U.S. national team and is in the prime of his career (though not likely to be called back into the U.S. setup). But they’re giving up an extremely talented striker who has 15 U.S. caps of his own (and two goals) and appears very much ready to break out in MLS, if given the chance.

And that, finally, may be what it came down to: Hans Backe was extremely stingy with playing time for Agudelo, even though the youngster did well in almost every appearance for New York, right up to his final one, last Sunday against Philadelphia. He also produced some highlight-reel moments, including a brilliant goal in the season opener against Seattle last season:

And this bit of magic against DC United last April:

Yet Backe continued to keep a tight rein on him, and that, according to New York GM, Erik Soler, led to Agudelo to ask for a trade, if there weren’t plans to give him more first-team play with the Red Bulls. Apparently, there weren’t.

So Agudelo moves on, and New York fans hope this transaction doesn’t turn out like the club’s previous two significant trades.

In 2010, the Red Bulls sent tricky attacker Macoumba Kandji to Colorado in exchange for middling midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy. While Ballouchy continued to be middling after the trade, Kandji went on to create the winning goal for Colorado in MLS Cup 2010.

The following year, New York shipped attacker Dwayne De Rosario, whom they’d acquired just three months earlier, to DC United for midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty was just okay for the remainder of the season while De Rosario absolutely lit up the league, racking up 13 goals and eight assists in 18 games for DC (including beating McCarty for a goal against New York two weeks after the trade). The Canadian international was named the 2011 MLS MVP for his efforts.

How will Agudelo fare with his new club? He’ll likely suit up in the LA derby this weekend against the Galaxy, and Red Bulls fans can track his progress in person next Wednesday—when he returns to Red Bull Arena as a member of Chivas USA.

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“Behind the Scenes” of the U.S. U-23s’ Friendly vs Mexico

From coach Caleb Porter’s pregame team talk—which had us fired up to go out and play—to the field-level view of the action, to Juan Agudelo’s centurion hairdo, there’s a lot to like in this you-are-there glimpse of the U.S. U-23’s 2-0 win over Mexico last month.

Take a look:

We also appreciated Freddy Adu’s on- and off-field leadership. He was a vocal leader in the locker room and the tunnel, and he backed it up on the field—on both sides of the ball.

Is he on the verge of a breakout year in Philadelphia?

Time will tell—starting at 9:30 ET on Monday, when the Union take on the Portland Timbers in their 2012 opener (ESPN2).

U.S. U-23s Roll Past Mexico, 2-0

What a day for U.S. Soccer yesterday: the women’s team routed Denmark 5-0, the men clipped Italy 1-0 for their first win ever over the Azzurri, and the U-23 side thoroughly outplayed their counterparts from Mexico in a 2-0 win.

All that, and Tony Meola and Claudio Reyna were inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

The only down note was JoeMax Moore—the fifth leading scorer in USMNT history—not getting into the Hall of Fame. (Though he’s already in the the Name Hall of Fame, so he’ll have to settle for that for now.)

Below are the highlights from the U-23s’ win over Mexico. You should know, though, that they do not reflect the U.S. dominance in the game. The video editor should have included a few passages of the Americans knocking it around skillfully while Mexico chased the game. There were plenty of those to choose from:

The U.S. begins Olympic qualifying on March 22, taking on Cuba in Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).

If the Soccer Doesn’t Work Out, Brek Shea Can Always Fall Back on Table Tennis

Here’s a clip from U.S. Soccer featuring pitched battles on the crucible of … the ping-pong table at the national team’s training center between Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce.

Shea, whom Agudelo dubs “Avatar” for his frame-filling presence at the other end of the table, can play.

Check it out below, and be sure to stay till the end for the choreographed celebration between Shea and Agudelo. Will we see that on Saturday vs Venezuela?

MLS Invades SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day

With four games on the schedule, last night was the busiest Wednesday of the year in Major League Soccer, and the action did not disappoint.

There was a five-goal flood in New York, a record-tying tally in Vancouver, and some great goalkeeping all over the map.

It was so good, in fact, that four spots on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day were occupied by MLS highlights.

Here they are, in the order they were ranked by ESPN:

10. Jeff Cunningham’s record-tying 133rd career goal

It also happened to be a 90th-minute winner for visiting Columbus versus Vancouver:

Final score Columbus 1, Vancouver 0

9. Matt Pickens’s astounding reaction save off a deflection against Sporting Kansas City

This one should have been higher; it’s a truly terrific save and it came in stoppage time, preserving a 1-1 tie for the visitors. Full (and worthwhile) highlights below, but scroll to 5:15 mark for Pickens’ heroics:

Final score: SKC 1, Colorado 1

7. Ben Zemanski’s swerving, 35-yard golazo against San Jose

This high-speed knuckleball broke open a game that seemed destined to become a dreaded 0-0 draw (and be sure to note Busch’s expression afterward. Priceless.):

Final score: Chivas USA 2, San Jose 0

3. This was a twofer: Luke Rodgers’ tremendous volley, and Juan Agudelo’s lethal header for New York against Toronto

Rodgers’ goal signaled the rout:

And Agudelo’s sealed it (and then he added one more):

Final score: New York 5, Toronto 0

ESPN also had a soccer highlight—a goal by Brazil in the Women’s World Cup—as its No. 1 play of the day. Not bad for footy on the WWL today: five out of 10.

Thierry Henry, 2000 vs. Juan Agudelo, 2011

We compared Juan Agudelo‘s magnificent goal vs DC United last night to a legendary strike by former New York Cosmos player Roberto Cabanas. But it’s real forerunner is a goal by Agudelo’s New York teammate Thierry Henry.

With a tip o the hat to the MLS website, let’s compare and contrast:

Henry, Arsenal vs Manchester United, 2000:

Agudelo, New  York vs DC, 2011:

We could watch these all day.

New York 4, D.C. 0: Henry Brace, Agudelo Golazo Key Red Bull Rout

Thierry Henry bagged two goals and Juan Agudelo produced a sensational Goal of the Year candidate in stoppage time to lead the Red Bulls to a 4-0 shutout of D.C. United at RFK Stadium last night.

Both teams were coming off convincing 3-0 wins in their last outings, but it was New York that got going early when Jan Gunnar Solli took a nice layoff from Dane Richards and charged up the wing to serve a perfect ball for Henry to bury with an eight-yard header.

Early goal in the bank, the Red Bulls never looked back, cruising to the lopsided victory.

It was an impressive road win, and arguably a statement game to the rest of the league, as the Red Bulls’ talented roster gave a glimpse of its capabilities (and Dwayne De Rosario hasn’t even gotten it going yet).

But as Henry said in his postgame interview (see below), the scoreline was somewhat unfair to the Black-and-Red, which hit the post twice and forced two excellent saves from New York keeper Bouna Coundoul.

Highlights here (and you may want to watch Agudelo’s Roberto Cabanas-esque strike several times):

And here’s Henry’s postgame interview with ESPN: