11513_isi_agudelojuan_mlsack20131102140 Andrew Katsampes/isiphotos.com
Major League Soccer

Juan Agudelo Could Be the Key to Revs' Playoff Run

Juan Agudelo is on his way to Stoke City of the English Premier League, but before he moves overseas, the 20-year-old striker plans to help New England raise a ruckus in the MLS Playoffs.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 05, 2013
1:35 PM
WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED in late August that Juan Agudelo would not be sold to Stoke City early and would remain with the New England Revolution through the end of the Major League Soccer season, few could have predicted the impact of that decision.

But it was a serious game-changer for the Revolution, a confident young team that is looking extremely dangerous in the MLS playoffs. The club plays Sporting Kansas City Wednesday night (9 p.m. Eastern; MLS Live) and only needs a tie to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

Still just 20 years old, Agudelo has meshed well with New England's core of young players since arriving from Chivas USA in May. Kelyn Rowe, Andrew Farrell, and Diego Fagundez—who could be one of the best teenagers in league history—have all thrived since Agudelo's arrival.

In fact, the entire team seems to play better with Agudelo in the lineup. Though he has battled injuries throughout the year and played just 15 matches for New England this season, the club is 9-4-2 in those contests. Agudelo has scored five goals in that span, including the game-winning goal in a 1-0 season finale victory over Columbus that clinched a playoff spot.

“We’re excited,” Agudelo told American Soccer Now. “I feel like we have a good group of guys to make a push in this series. It’s serious business. I really enjoy the Revolution and the young-minded team approach. The belief that they have in younger guys is incredible. It’s growing. Young players are getting the opportunity and taking advantage of the opportunity. That’ll then give another young player the confidence to do the same.”

The architect of the youth movement at New England has been head coach Jay Heaps, who has found a way to implement a system that has best utilized Fagundez, Rowe, Farrell, and Agudelo. When Agudelo joined, Heaps found that a 4-1-4-1 formation worked best, as it liberated Agudelo offensively and took advantage of his ability to hold the ball and maintain possession. As a result, Agudelo has prospered in front of goal while increasing the offensive productivity of his teammates.

"Juan has a really good presence up there,” Heaps said in August. “He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous as he holds it. He makes players like Lee [Nguyen] and Kelyn [Rowe] have a little bit more time to find the gaps. So when you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.”

The Revolution is now on the verge of an upset in the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Saturday, New England stunned Sporting Kansas City 2-1 at Gillette Stadium and will now head to Sporting Park for Wednesday’s return leg needed just a tie to advance.

Agudelo knows that the return leg will be perhaps the toughest game of the season but at the same point he remains confident. When he has been healthy, the Revolution has been among the best teams in the league. And right now he feels 100 percent healthy.

“They’re a hard working team,” Agudelo said of Kansas City. “They’re probably one of the highest-pressuring and hardest-working and battling teams in the league. That’s why they’re second in the East. They’re going to give us a tough battle. We have a group of hard-working guys and toward the end of the season we turned it on. We developed good chemistry. We know what to do.”

This will likely be Agudelo’s last MLS playoff campaign—at least for a few years. Over the summer he signed a deal with Stoke City of the English Premier League that goes into effect in January if he can secure a U.K. work permit. Stoke made an offer to buy him early in August but it was rejected and Agudelo has instead remained with the Revolution in its attempt to win its first-ever MLS Cup.

He enjoys the structure of the MLS playoffs where the games are all intense and a team’s season could end with just one poor performance. Next year he will be playing in perhaps the sport’s most prestigious league, but will he miss these days of the playoffs?

“Oh definitely,” he said. “For sure.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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