Ending in New York leaves Angel with something to prove

Juan Pablo Angel is no stranger to changing clubs. He isn’t exactly a journeyman, but the veteran Colombian striker has been around long enough to know the process of having to change teams.

His moves from Atletico Nacional to River Plate and from River to Aston Villa were both triumphant steps up in class that were rewards for his prolific goal-scoring ability. Even his move from Villa to the New York Red Bulls was seen as a new challenge, an opportunity to test himself in a new environment and a chance to be a leader for a club that sorely needed one.

Angel’s most recent move has seen him go across the country to the Los Angeles Galaxy, where he is seen as the missing piece to what LA hopes will be a championship puzzle. Watching him sport Galaxy colors and flash that familiar smile under the beaming California sun, you would think Angel was meant to play in Los Angeles, but the reality is his most recent move was far different from the previous ones in his career.

The big difference is that, unlike his previous club switches, Angel left New York without ever having wanted to leave, forced out by a club that unceremoniously dumped him and cared little about his unmatched contributions over the previous four seasons. Thierry Henry’s arrival last summer made Angel expendable, something club officials had no trouble letting Angel know, even though he still had half a season to play.

Red Bulls management told Angel he was free to leave, either by trade during last season or after the season. With no trade made, Angel was forced to endure three months playing for a team that didn’t want him. His form suffered considerably, and while he still scored goals, Angel’s final months in New York ended in a way few could have imagined.

"I was never in a situation like that, where I was told very early in the season that I wasn’t in the plans of the team anymore," Angel said. "I wasn’t happy about it. It’s hard when you go into an environment where you’re not wanted anymore, and I think that, in a way, played into my performance.

"Overall, it was year where I scored goals as I always did for New York. I played pretty much every game, available every game, and I think I behaved as I always behaved. The frustrating part was that I played three or four months of the year not being wanted and that was the toughest thing to deal with."

Free to leave New York, Angel had the chance to explore options abroad, but a desire to want to stay in MLS, and the chance to be re-united with Bruce Arena, the head coach who brought him to MLS with New York in 2007, led to Angel’s move to the Galaxy.

"I wanted to stay in MLS, I came here for a reason, I believe in what the league is doing here," Angel said. "Bruce was one of the first people who spoke to me (last year) when my situation was going on with New York and when the opportunity to play for him came up it was an easy decision."

Angel’s 2011 season has gotten off to a slow start, with just one goal in the team’s first seven matches, but he was slowed by a hamstring injury suffered just before the season opener. Angel has been working his way back to full fitness and should be in the lineup on Saturday when the Galaxy takes on the Portland Timbers.

"He had a good pre-season, but the hamstring injury right before the opening game obviously set him back," Arena said. "You can see in training that he’s moving forward. He hasn’t given up and we haven’t given up on him. He’s going to score his goals. We’re not worried about that."

Los Angeles is counting on Angel to help fill the void left by the departure of scoring leader Edson Buddle and while the pre-season hamstring injury slowed him down, Angel appears to finally be healthy and ready to play like the striker who scored 58 goals in four seasons with New York. Saturday, against Portland, with Landon Donovan also expected back from a knee injury, the Galaxy could finally show us the form expected of the team when the 2011 season began.

Angel should be a key factor for the Galaxy tonight, and this season, and given the way his time in New York ended, it is a safe bet that Angel be playing this season with something to prove.

Juan Pablo Angel and the LA Galaxy host the Portland Timbers Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern on FOX Soccer Channel.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.