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.

WADA Drops Case Against Five Mexican Players Who Tested Positive at Gold Cup

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced yesterday that it has dropped its appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where it was going to challenge the Mexican Football Federation’s decision to clear the five members of El Tri who tested positive for clenbuterol at last summer’s Gold Cup.

WADA issued the statement after accepting FIFA’s determination that the players tested positive because their Twitter accounts were hacked they ate meat tainted with the steroid.

Sigh.

There are just two problems with this outcome, as we see it.

First, FIFA made its determination after “working with the government of Mexico.”

Nothing against the government of Mexico, but, well, soccer is a huge point of pride in that nation, and a pastime deeply woven into its cultural fabric. They have not appreciated the recent gains made by the U.S. in the soccer border rivalry, and were very—very—pleased with the outcome of the Gold Cup. Nuff said.

Second, you can’t test positive for clenbuterol by eating “tainted” meat.

Let’s go to the expert, Fernando Ramos, “a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal who has studied clenbuterol contamination in meat for 20 years.”

According to Mr. Ramos, any animal pumped with enough clenbuterol for it to show up in the urine of a person who ate that animal would have died before being slaughtered for food.

Ramos says it’s possible to ingest detectable amounts of clenbuterol from livestock—but only if you eat the liver of the animal, “where clenbuterol is known to accumulate.” And then you would get terribly ill.

There have been numerous reports of these five players “eating contaminated meat” but not one about them “falling terribly ill from eating clenbuterol-soaked meat.”

For whatever reason, WADA has let this one go. Chances are, they will be a little more hard-nosed when it comes to Alberto Contador, the three-time Tour de France winner whose case goes before CAS next month.

Contador tested positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, which he won, and claimed the positive was the result of … wait for it …  his Twitter being hacked? … here it comes … eating contaminated meat!

Ramos, again, from the Times article:

When asked what the chances were that Contador’s positive test, even at such low levels, was a result of the meat he ate, Ramos said, “I can say 99 percent, it’s impossible.”

Early-Evening Roundup: Donovan Benched Again, Uzbeks Drop U.S. U-17s

We’re about to bust out to watch the U.S. take on Panama in their Gold Cup semifinal, but we just checked the Twitter feed and found this bombshell: Landon Donovan will start tonight’s crucial game on the bench.

This is obviously huge, and it suggests that his previous benching, against Jamaica in the quarterfinals, may have had more to it than the fact that LD flew in from his sister’s wedding in California the night before.

Here’s the starting XI:

Tim Howard

Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj

Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones; Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Clint Dempsey

Juan Agudelo

It’s probably safe to say that most (all) observers assumed that either Kljestan or Bedoya would be dropped in favor of Donovan, but that has not happened.

How will the team respond? How will Donovan respond if and when he comes in as a sub?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and enjoy the game.

In other U.S. news, the U-17 American team was upended 2-1 by Uzbekistan this afternoon at the youth World Cup in Mexico.

It’s a surprising result, to say the least, since the U.S. was coming off a convincing 3-0 win over the Czech Republic while the Uzbeks were drubbed 4-1 by New Zealand in their opener.

The young Nats will need a result, and maybe a win, against the Kiwis in their final group stage game. New Zealand and the Czech Republic kick off their second group-stage game at 7:00.

Red Bulls GM Soler Issues Statement on Refereeing in Portland Game (But Henry’s Red Was Deserved)

The New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers played to a wild, back-and-forth 3-3 draw last night at JELD-WEN Field.

Here are the highlights, with the not-even-trying-to-hide-their-bias local announcers (one of whom is former Jamaica international Robbie Earle, who scored that nation’s first ever goal in the World Cup finals. The more you know….):

Absent from the clip are a penalty miss (off the post) by Jack Jewsbury that would have put the Timbers up 4–2, a bicycle-kick goal-line clearance by Teemu Tainio, and a red card issued to Thierry Henry in stoppage time for smacking the head of Portland midfielder Adam Moffat.

Yes, it was an eventful, strange game. And here’s perhaps the oddest occurrence: New York was whistled for 25 fouls to Portland’s five.

There’s home-field advantage, Red Bulls GM Erik Soler has apparently decided, and then there’s … WTF?

Today, Soler issued the following statement regarding the match:

“We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night and I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable. First, the red card given to Thierry Henry was inexplicable. There was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever and this decision was made by a linesman who was more than half a field away. Second, in any soccer game, there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.

“We are aware that U.S. Soccer and MLS are working hard to improve the officiating in this country and we support those efforts wholeheartedly. However, if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur. We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

As for the imbalance in foul calls—and just five being called on the home side—Soler has a valid point. That’s more than an anomaly.

As for Henry’s red card, it’s true that the linesman who helped the ref make the call was not right on top of the play, but the statement “there was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever” is demonstrably false.

Click here to take a look at the clip.

Henry does the time-tested “Yeah, yeah, we’re good, man” multiple pats on the head delivered with enough force to suggest exactly the opposite.

It’s a first cousin of the “Here, let me help you up” move seen so often on soccer fields that actually communicates “Get up, a—hole, I barely touched you.”

If it were Henry’s only borderline action of the game (or his brief MLS career), we’d say it deserved a yellow at most.

But Henry—who had an incredible game, by the way—was on the edge for much of the match, getting in little cheap shots here and there and twice planting his knee in the backs of Portland defenders while going for headers.

In that context, the red makes more sense—and regardless of the situation, Henry did strike an opposing player.

We’d be surprised if the league agreed with Soler (and 86% of the respondents to the MLS poll on the topic) and appealed the Frenchman’s automatic one-game suspension, making him available for Thursday’s game at Seattle.

Besides, with his sore knees, does Henry really want to play two FieldTurf games in a row?

Columbus 2, Real Salt Lake 1: Cunningham Denied Alltime Scoring Mark by Post, Mendoza

In a meeting of injury- and international-absence–riddled teams at Crew Stadium last night, Columbus rallied to beat Real Salt Lake 2-1 on goals by Andres Mendoza and Josh Gardner.

Gardner’s strike came in the 82nd minute, deflecting off RSL defender Chris Schuler and flying past a wrong-footed Nick Rimando to supply the Crew with a dramatic game-winner.

But it was Mendoza’s goal that provided the game’s main talking point. After Columbus rookie Justin Meram—who set up the Crew’s stoppage-time equalizer against New York last week—drew a penalty in the 75th minute, Mendoza fetched a ball from a nearby ballboy and went to the spot, where fellow striker Jeff Cunningham was waiting.

Scroll to the 3:30 mark of the clip below to see what happened:

Mendoza—who was just made a designated player in the offseason and has been struggling mightily since getting the big bucks—insisted on taking the potentially game-tying PK even though Cunningham was a) the team’s designated penalty-taker for the game, and b) one goal behind Jaime Moreno for the alltime MLS career scoring lead.

(Cunningham has 132 career goals; Moreno, the former D.C. United legend, retired with 133.)

Both Sebastian Miranda and Columbus captain Chad Marshall came over to Mendoza in apparent attempts to try to explain the situation/dissuade him, but Mendoza would not budge.

All we can say is, good thing he made it.

Cunningham, who hit the post with a powerful header in the second half, was extremely gracious in his postgame comments about the controversy, telling the league website:

“I’m happy for Mendoza. The boy deserves it. He’s definitely putting in the work tonight. Usually I’m one and Mendoza is two [to take the kick]. He felt very confident that he would score. Sometimes you have to lead by example and be a servant.

“It’s good for him. We need him to be at his best. That goal was probably more important for the club than me at this point. As a forward he’s been under a lot of pressure. It’s important for us to be supportive of him. I’m happy he stepped up and he’s confident enough to score. Life goes on and we got three points.”

Mendoza missed two very make-able chances against the Red Bulls last week, and had flubbed an excellent cross from Cunningham earlier in this match (though he was also ruled offside). He struggled to make the starting lineup earlier in the season.

Afterward, Mendoza claimed through a translator that he didn’t know Cunningham was on the cusp of the record or that the Crew veteran had been designated to take any PKs in the game.

Hmmm. Then what was Miranda, a fellow Spanish speaker, saying to him as they huddled over the ball in the clip above?

We’d be willing to bet it went something like this: “Hey Andres, Jeff is one goal away from tying the alltime league scoring record—maybe let him take this? Oh, also, coach Warzycha said Cunningham should take any PKs tonight, okay? So how bout stepping aside? … No? Okay, well, enjoy life back in Peru if you don’t effin make it.”

Note that Cunningham was the first player to congratulate Mendoza after the spot kick. That gesture, and his postgame comments (not to mention the win), should help smooth things over in the Columbus locker room.

Real Salt Lake were without regulars Alvaro Saborio (Gold Cup), Arturo Alvarez (Gold Cup),  Will Johnson (Gold Cup), Paulo Jr (hip flexor) and Javier Morales (ankle), while Columbus was missing Robbie Rogers (Gold Cup), Dilly Duka (ankle), Emilio Renteria (quadriceps), and Tommy Heinemann (hamstring).

Red Bulls Sack Assistant Williams, Goalkeepers Coach McAleenan

Just weeks before their March 19 MLS season opener, the New York Red Bulls dismissed longstanding assistants Richie Williams and Des McAleenan—then released possibly the tersest press release in sports history to announce the decisions.

Here it is, in full:

Red Bull New York announced today that it has relieved assistant coach Richie Williams and goalkeeping coach Des McAleenan of their duties effective immediately.

“As an organization, we decided to go a different direction with our coaching staff,” said Red Bull New York General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “We want to thank Richie and Des for their contributions to our franchise and wish them good luck in their future endeavors.”

Obviously, there is much more to this story than that ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ bulletin, but we’ll have to await further details. According to the Washington Post’s Steven Goff, who broke the story, “One source said the reason was repeated violation of club rules. Another cited punctuality.”

Williams had been with the organization since 2006 and was seen as a vital liaison to coach Hans Backe and his staff as they acclimated to the idiosyncrasies of doing business in MLS during their first season last year.

McAleenan had been New York’s keepers coach since 2002 (when they were the MetroStars) and is widely respected around the league.

More to follow on this one, for sure.

Thierry Henry’s Knee: “Not there yet ….”

We came across the above quote in this ostensibly positive account of Thierry Henry’s first preseason camp with the Red Bulls, who opened training in Waldwick, N.J., this week.

We were breezing along, reading about how the 33-year-old striker is determined to help “finally bring that trophy that New York never won,” when we came across the following assessment of the knee injury that kept him out of the stretch run in 2010:

“[It’s] better, way better; not there yet to strike the ball too hard, but it’s hopefully something that’s in the past and hopefully will stay in the past—it’s way better.”

We dropped a Sheila Broflovski–style “What-what-what?!” when we read that.

Not there yet to strike the ball hard? Hopefully in the past? Hopefully will stay in the past?

None of that sounds very convincing, or, um, hopeful—or good for Red Bulls fans.

Henry has had nearly 12 weeks off (not counting his training stint with Arsenal in London last week). He could have had surgery on his injured knee and been in the above condition by now. How is he not 100% healthy?

If we were gambling types, we’d bet there’s more to this story than we’ve been told.

And the longer this sort of thing keeps up, the closer Henry’s MLS career comes to being Beckham-esque—minus the English icon’s far-reaching PR boost.