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.

“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:

Red Bulls Welcome Back Henry, Internationals, for Houston Game

One week after getting a quality point at Columbus while missing six regulars due to injuries and international call-ups, the New York Red Bulls will be close to full strength for Saturday night’s game against Houston (7:30, MSG, DirectKick, MatchDay Live).

Juan Agudelo (U.S.), Tim Ream (U.S.), Dane Richards (Jamaica), and Rafa Marquez (Mexico) all return to the lineup, along with Thierry Henry (hamstring).

Greg Sutton, the starting keeper on opening day, will not be available due to a concussion suffered during midweek training. Bouna Coundoul, last year’s No. 1, is expected to start in goal. If that happens, New York will have used three different goalkeepers for their three games so far in 2011—Sutton, emergency signing Alex Horwath, and Coundoul.

Sutton and Horwath produced shutouts in their games, so Coundoul will have a standard to maintain between the pipes.

The conventional wisdom of the numerous MLS power rankings this week is that the unbeaten and unscored-upon Red Bulls are among the league’s elite—they’ve generally been placed third, behind Real Salt Lake and the defending champion Colorado Rapids (both of which opened the season with two victories).

Saturday night’s game, then, will either confirm or (to quote the Big Lebowski’s Brandt) disconfirm that status.

New York fans have legitimate reasons for optimism: New signings Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli both looked very assured in last week’s visit to Columbus, and Ream and Agudelo are fresh off successful appearances with the U.S. national team. Marquez earned his 100th cap with Mexico during last week’s international fixtures, and Joel Lindpere, well, continues to be Joel Lindpere—the team’s most consistently effective player.

Add the expectation of a fully fit (right?*) Henry lining up alongside the rising Agudelo—who scored for the U.S. against Argentina and was a handful against Paraguay—and Red Bull fans have a lot to look forward to.

There’s been talk this week of the need to protect the 18-year-old Agudelo from the hype machine his performances have created. He’s scored two goals and drawn a penalty in four appearances for the U.S., and he scored his first MLS goal—the game-winner—with authority in the Red Bulls opener against Seattle on March 19.

While we completely agree that the kid must be brought along slowly, we can’t help but amplify the hype just a little by posting this clip:

Houston, which has been relocated to the Eastern Conference this season, is coming off a somewhat flattering 1-1 tie against Seattle last weekend, after opening with a surprising home loss to Philadelphia.

Against, Seattle, they were outplayed and outshot, yet nearly grabbed all three points, as Seattle only tied it up in the final minutes, through Steve Zakuani. Goalkeeper Tally Hall was spectacular, keeping Houston in the game with seven saves.

The Dynamo backline has been shaky in 2011, but its midfield, featuring Brad Davis, Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer, has been solid and should get better as the season progresses.

Look for veteran striker Brian Ching to come back from injury and join the starting lineup on Saturday, possibly partnering with rookie Will Bruin to give Houston a physically imposing top two.

*Henry, who has been nagged by injuries throughout his brief Red Bulls career, sat out the Columbus game with a hamstring strain, and appeared to blame the team’s fitness coach. He also flashed a little petulance when asked if his age had anything to do with his injury woes, snapping: “That is a stupid question.” Read more about it here, and … stay tuned. We say it doesn’t bode well.

The March Friendlies: Player Ratings

While Backpost was away on vacation, the U.S. played two international friendlies, pulling out a flattering 1-1 draw with Argentina on Saturday night, then following that up with a more balanced performance but a 1-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday.

These were the last two games for the U.S. before the Gold Cup kicks off in June. The winner of the Gold Cup gets a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup.

Here are the highlights from the Paraguay match, followed by the Backpost U.S. player ratings for both games:

Tim Howard, 9—A handful of stops—including a spectacular kick save on Leo Messi—kept the scorline respectable against Argentina. The former MetroStar is just a fantastic goalkeeper.

Marcus Hahnemann, 6—Nothing he could do on Paraguay’s goal, and was solid otherwise, including on a double save late in the first half.

David Yelldell, 5—Not a very hectic 45 minutes of action against Paraguay; claimed a few crosses. Was beaten—as any keeper would have been—by Marcelo Estigarribia’s cannon shot from 30 yards, which banged off the post.

Jonathan Spector, 4—Maybe the recent lack of playing time, and the shift to midfield, at West Ham have hurt him. Looked uncomfortable and was overwhelmed a couple of times before being taken off for Timothy Chandler at halftime vs Argentina. Came on for ten minutes at the end of the Paraguay game.

Timothy Chandler, 7—Along with Juan Agudelo, sparked the U.S. to life in the second half against Argentina, and showed attacking ability in both matches. Was also caught out of position a few times in both games.

Jay DeMerit, 5—His hard work and athleticism boosted the U.S.’s emergency defending in the first half against Argentina, but had a couple of scary giveaways in the back. Came off at halftime of Paraguay game with groin strain.

Tim Ream, 7.5—Excellent positioning and pinpoint passing out of the back. Also showed speed—which some critics say he lacks—chasing down a Paraguayan attacker in the corner. Lost his footing on the corner kick that led to the goal.

Carlos Bocanegra, 5—Rebounded from a very shaky first half against Argentina to help set up U.S. goal with header. Came in for DeMerit vs Paraguay and did no harm.

Jonathan Bornstein, 5—Completely mis-hit a cross against Paraguay after being sent in to the box by Landon Donovan. Beaten in the air early, then shored up his defensive game later.

Eric Lichaj, 6—Brings a lot of energy and some surprising confidence to the U.S. backline. Positioned well defensively and picked his spots to get forward in a second-half appearance vs Paraguay. His long throw nearly created the equalizer when it fell for Donovan at the back post.

Oguchi Onyewu, 3.5—Hard to believe he’s playing outside back for FC Twente. At centerback for the Yanks, seemed too lumbering and clumsy on the ball to deal with speedy wing play. Made a few bad giveaways. Gooch hasn’t been himself since injuring his patella tendon back in Oct 2009. DNP vs Paraguay.

Maurice Edu, 5—Was perhaps the most hampered by the U.S.’s 4-5-1 first-half formation vs Argentina, and the overcrowded central midfield it produced. Did much better when the Yanks went to a 4-4-2, and had a solid showing on both sides of the ball against Paraguay.

Michael Bradley, 5.5—Did some frantic defending against Argentina but was also overwhelmed and out of sync with his central midfield partners, until the U.S. changed it up. Did much better vs Paraguay and nearly hit a late equalizer on a 25-yard crack that produced a highlight-reel save from Paraguay keeper Ricardo Villar.

Jermaine Jones, 5.5—Played a half in each game; looked utterly lost vs Argentina (some day coach Bob Bradley will shelve the idea of playing Edu, M. Bradley, and Jones—nearly identical players—together in the center of the field. We just know it), but pretty sharp vs Paraguay. Nearly tied it at the end with point-blank tracer that Villar stymied.

Landon Donovan, 5—Others disagree, but we thought LD donned his invisibility cloak for much of these two games. Nearly (and should have) scored late against Paraguay but missed the target, and was just not enough The Man for the U.S. in both games.

Clint Dempsey, 7—Savviest U.S. player on the field vs Paraguay. Clever, subtle first touches got him out of midfield traffic, tested Paraguay’s Villar with a long looping shot, and headed Chandler’s cross just over the bar. Not as effective against Argentina but still a calming veteran presence.

Jozy Altidore, 5—Completely stranded up top in the first half against Argentina, and subsequently tried to do too much (like going 1 v 4 on the Albiceleste backline). Did better when Agudelo came on in the second half, but his game dropped vs Paraguay with poor touches and no coordination with teammates in attack.

Juan Agudelo, 8—He has scored two goals and drawn a penalty in four games for the U.S. (also appeared to have drawn one against Paraguay but it was not called). His exciting start papers over some of his errors, like not getting the ball off his feet quickly enough, but he shows a ton of confidence and some welcome ideas in the attacking third. Future’s so bright, he … should open a Sunglasses Hut franchise.

Sacha Kljestan, NR—Thirteen-minute cameo vs Paraguay; we thought young Mix Diskerud would get out there, but it was Sacha and his ’stache, which are settling in fairly well at Anderlecht.

MLS Weekend Preview: International Call-Ups Thin the Ranks

There is probably no team with more of a desire to see MLS conform to FIFA’s International Fixture dates than the Red Bulls.

When New York kicks off in Columbus tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 (MSG +/Direct Kick/MatchDay Live) they will be without five starters and a backup keeper due to international call-ups.

Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo will be with the U.S. as it faces Argentina, Rafa Marquez will play for Mexico, Dane Richards will suit up for Jamaica, Roy Miller got called in by Costa Rica, and second-string netminder Bouna Coundoul was tapped by Senegal.

Add the fact that Thierry Henry will miss the game with a hamstring strain (here we go again with that guy), and you are going to see a very … interesting lineup take the field for New York tomorrow afternoon.

We have no idea how they’re going construct a backline in the absence of three defensive regulars (Miller, Ream and Marquez), and with substitute Chris Albright rehabbing from surgery. Teemu Tainio will probably move from midfield to outside back, but coach Hans Backe will have to make multiple other adjustments as well, all over the field.

The other teams hit hardest by call-ups are Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, both of which had three players tapped for international duty.

Kansas City visits Chicago on Saturday (4:00, TeleFutura) without Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone), Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe), and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica).

Real Salt Lake hosts Los Angeles on Saturday night (9:00, DK/MDL) while missing Will Johnson (Canada), Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador*), and Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).

The Week 2 schedule kicks off tonight when Seattle welcomes Houston to Qwest Field (Fox Soccer Channel, 10:00 p.m. EST). Both clubs will be looking for their first win of the season after Seattle started with consecutive 1-0 losses to Los Angeles and New York, and Houston was surprised at home by the same scoreline when Danny Califf poked home a rebound for Philadelphia last Saturday.

Following tonight’s tussle in Seattle, there are eight games on Saturday. In addition to the matchups mentioned above we have (home teams listed first):

Toronto FC vs Portland, 2:00 p.m., TSN (Canada), MDL

The Reds face an expansion team for the second straight week to start the season, and, as their 4-2 loss to Vancouver showed last week, that’s probably for the better. Toronto is still working out the kinks as they try to implement new coach Aron Winter‘s system. Portland began its MLS existence with a 3-1 defeat to defending champion Colorado last week, and should welcome the chance to measure themselves against the struggling Reds.

Philadelphia vs Vancouver, 4:00 p.m., MDL/DK

Both teams started the season with a bang last week, the Union upsetting Houston on the road and Whitecaps FC overwhelming Toronto at home. The Sons of Ben will be out in force for the home opener at PPL Park. Philly will want to keep tabs on Vancouver playmaker Davide Chiumiento, whose midfield brilliance was somewhat overshadowed by new DP Eric Hassli‘s two goals last week.

New England vs DC United, 4:30 p.m., MDL/DK

Charlie Davies brings his magic to the Big Razor to face a New England team that narrowly escaped rainy Los Angeles with a 1-1 draw last week—and will play without Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi, both of whom were called to the Gambian national team, this week. CD9 scored two to lead the Black-and-Red to a 3-1 win over Columbus last Saturday.

FC Dallas vs San Jose, 9:00 p.m., MDL/DK

The Hoops will be without centerback Brek Shea, who was red-carded in last week’s 1-1 tie with Chicago. San Jose hopes to make up for last week’s tough home loss to Real Salt Lake, a game in which they created but failed to convert several good chances.

Chivas USA vs Colorado, 10:30 p.m., MDL/DK

It doesn’t get any easier for Robin Fraser‘s rebuilt squad: they welcome the defending champs one week after a 3-2 home loss to high-flying Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids will be without international call-ups Sanna Nyassi (Gambia) and Omar Cummings (Jamaica), but they’ll still present a stiff challenge for the Goats.

*Alvarez was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels, but chose to play for his parents’ native El Salvador at the senior level.