Agudelo scores in debut to give US 1-0 victory
Juan Agudelo sure knows how to make an entrance.
Six days shy of his 18th birthday, Agudelo became the youngest American player to score for the national team in the modern era. His goal in the 85th minute of his debut Wednesday gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory over South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge exhibition, and allowed the Americans to avoid finishing the year with a losing record.
''I'm speechless, I don't know what to say,'' said Agudelo, whose No. 17 uniform matched his age. ''So many people are here, watching me, and I scored the goal. It's an amazing feeling.''
Agudelo fed fellow newcomer Mikkel Diskerud, who was able to maintain control despite being smothered by three defenders. He played the ball back to Agudelo, who took one touch and banged the ball in off the underside of the crossbar with a right-footed flick from 7 yards.
The teenager, who just made his first two starts for the New York Red Bulls in the MLS playoffs because of a knee injury to Thierry Henry, dropped to his knees and thrust both index fingers in the air. Jozy Altidore had set the previous mark for youngest scorer in the modern era with a goal against Mexico on Feb. 6, 2008, when he was 18 years and 92 days old.
''I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to process it tonight,'' Agudelo said. ''It's definitely the best feeling I've ever had in my life, and I'm glad we got the win.''
South Africa made a furious scramble for the equalizer, and Siphiwe Tshabalala's nifty backheel pass to the front of the goal looked as if it could be trouble. But Eric Lichaj, who made his first start in his second appearance for the U.S., disrupted it.
The game was the first victory for the Americans since they beat Algeria on June 23 to advance to the second round of the World Cup in South Africa, and gave them a 5-5-4 record for 2010. The U.S. also improved its record against South Africa to 3-0, all in exhibitions.
The loss was the first in four games for new South Africa coach Pitso Mosimane, who took over Bafana Bafana after the World Cup.
''We think that there is something there, and we're excited to work with him,'' U.S. coach Bob Bradley said of Agudelo. ''We also talk with him in a camp like this so he understands what it's like going forward. Because like all young pros, learning and doing things the right way is important, and they can't get ahead of themselves. It's a good start, and certainly an exciting night for him.''
It could signal a bright future as the U.S. prepares for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, too.
Most of the regulars, including Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and captain Carlos Bocanegra, stayed home because of the long trip and quick turnaround. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Clarence Goodson were the only holdover starters from last month's 0-0 tie against Colombia, and left back Jonathan Bornstein and forward Robbie Findley were the only players in the starting lineup who also started in the loss to Ghana that eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup.
That gave Bradley an opportunity to get a look at some of the up-and-comers who could play key roles in the next World Cup cycle.
Agudelo, Diskerud, Teal Bunbury, Tim Ream and Gale Agbossoumonde, who turned 19 on Wednesday, all made their debuts against Bafana Bafana. Just as promising: Agudelo (Colombia), Diskerud (Norway), Bunbury (Canada) and Agbossoumonde (Togo) all have chosen - for now, anyway - to play for the U.S. rather than the country where they were born.
It's a pleasant change after the U.S. lost out homegrown player Giuseppe Rossi, who is from Clifton, N.J., but was wearing the captain's armband in Italy's 1-1 draw against Romania on Wednesday. Yura Movsisyan (Armenia) and Neven Subotic (Serbia) also had the potential to play for the U.S.
''It's a very good group of guys here in the team, and I'm really happy to be a part of it,'' said Diskerud, whose mother is from Arizona. ''Winning a trophy in your first game is a special feeling. I'm very proud to be an American right now.''
Bafana Bafana took advantage of a slow start by the inexperienced Americans, but Guzan, wearing the captain's armband in Bocanegra's absence, came up with two big saves in the first 20 minutes. Leeds forward Davide Somma, who grew up in Florida, put a ball through to Anele Ngcongca in the 14th, but Guzan deflected Ngcongca's shot.
Six minutes later, captain Steven Pienaar played a nice ball to Bernard Parker, but Guzan blocked the close-range shot.
The second-half additions of Bunbury, Agudelo and Diskerud gave the Americans more speed, and Agudelo and Diskerud showed the makings of a nice pairing on the game-winner.
''It was obviously a difficult game for us. There were a lot of young guys and it was the first time they were in with the national team,'' Guzan said. ''Any time you have that, especially with the short amount of time we were together, it's going to be a little bit difficult. We dealt well with it.''