Agudelo must deliver on promise

Any lingering doubts surrounding Juan Agudelo’s impending move to the Premier League seeped away when his latest and most audacious goal crossed the line on Saturday night.

Some moments reveal the class of a player, the extra little something required to compete and thrive at the top levels of the game. Agudelo conjured up one of those special sequences — a clever, instinctual back-heel flick to lob the onrushing Sean Johnson at full speed — which showed why Stoke City pursued and ultimately secured his signature a fortnight ago.

The goal marked yet another highlight in a year Agudelo recently called the most important of his young career. He entered the final season of his four-year Major League Soccer deal with aspirations of moving overseas. He figured he might find some interest in his services as a 20-year-old, out-of-contract United States international, but he knew he needed to deliver on his promise in order to entice potential suitors and prove himself worthy of a seven-figure contract.

"I feel like it’s been my dream since I was little to make that leap," Agudelo said. "I’ve sacrificed a lot with my MLS contract to be able to make this jump."

Agudelo dismissed attempts to extend his stay and improve his compensation along the way in pursuit of his primary objective. He conceded a bit of money on the front end for flexibility at the conclusion of his deal. He spent his winters in England, Germany and Scotland to hone his craft with training stints at established clubs, too. The guidance he received prompted decisions well beyond his years and shepherded him into a situation where he could ultimately win his desired move.

Chivas USA decided to ship Agudelo to New England in May after he rejected overtures to sign a new deal with the club. It proved a masterstroke for both Agudelo (who never really hit his stride there after his shocking departure from New York in May 2012) and the Revolution. The mobile approach in New England — the hybrid 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 setup places a significant emphasis on combination play and movement in the attacking half — highlighted Agudelo’s strengths and paved the way for an extended run of form for both club and player.

Agudelo suffered a right knee sprain during the waning stages of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal against D.C. United in June, but his influential displays persuaded at least two interested parties to chase after him. New England and MLS tabled an offer within the measured parameters of the league’s budgetary structure. Stoke City trumped it with a heftier wage packet and the lure of Premier League.

"Basically, I don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but it wasn’t much of a competition with what MLS had to offer and what Stoke had to offer," Agudelo said. "It’s not just money, but it’s playing in the EPL. If everybody was in my shoes, they’d do the same thing. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t.”

They might try to follow in his footsteps, but most of them wouldn’t want to wait another four months to make the move. Stoke has so far gained little traction in a bid to acquire Agudelo before the transfer window closes. The complex nature of the situation — the complicated parceling of any fee generated (with the Revs only due a meager percentage), the modest compensation sent to Chivas USA and the value of Agudelo’s rights if he decides to return to MLS at a later date all factor into those deliberations — likely means he will remain Stateside until the new year.

Agudelo said he embraces the challenges ahead of him over the next few months as he starts to plot his Premier League future. The remainder of the MLS season hands him an ideal chance to state his case for immediate playing time when he joins Stoke in January. His consistency (a must to mount a case for Premier League playing time), his durability (a lingering concern given his spotty track record and slight frame) and his sharpness (less of an issue, as the goal showed) will all come under considerable scrutiny as he prepares to transition to his new home.

"The way I look at it, he has a great opportunity to help our team, but also help himself," Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. "His coach (Mark Hughes) is notorious for looking at MLS. If he goes on a good run here, he’s going to have an opportunity come January to be an impactful player."

Every step forward helps Agudelo along his carefully charted path. There is plenty of work still ahead of him. A moment of brilliance can identify the reasons behind his move and perhaps provide him with a chance to impress when he arrives, but it will not ensure continued success. Only the continued application and cultivation of his evident gifts will offer him the opportunity to create similar moments on the Premier League stage in the coming years.