Can Agudelo find the consistency to earn Arena's trust?
U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena just wrapped up his first January camp since taking the team back over from Jurgen Klinsmann, and he will use that month to see how he might supplement the player pool.
Arena has said he’s looking to make the pool smaller, not larger, but that he recognized there have been players on the outside who have been hoping for a shot. Arena certainly gave those players a look. But what might those players need to do to break in permanently and earn a spot on a World Cup qualifying roster that includes some top players in Europe?
One of the tougher places to earn a spot on the depth chart right now might be forward, especially considering the form of Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. But Juan Agudelo has the talent to be a difference-maker on the international stage, if only he could show it consistently as he does at the MLS level.
Here’s a look at Agudelo’s current standing with the U.S. men’s national team, and what Arena will want to see from the striker if he is going to be called in for the March qualifiers.
When Jurgen left
Agudelo was on the very fringes. He made an appearance here and there under Klinsmann. It wasn’t much, a total of six appearances across four years. But it was a significant drop off from 2011, when Agudelo looked like one of the top young prospects in the U.S. pool. Frankly, Agudelo fell behind a number of forwards on Klinsmann’s list, among them Aron Johannsson, Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green.
What’s changed under Bruce
Agudelo has at least given himself a chance to break into the depth chart behind what looks like an established top three at the position: Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Agudelo was called into January camp and immediately made two appearances, only the second time he’s had multiple caps in a year since 2011. Agudelo saw just three minutes against Serbia but played the full 90 against Jamaica, and he showed the work rate that matters as much as Agudelo’s enticing skill and talent in front of goal.
The next six weeks
There is no secret to what will take Agudelo from the fringes of the national team. It’s the same thing that has held him back from being one of the top strikers in MLS: consistency. Agudelo shows you flashes. Sometimes it’s a moment in a game. Sometimes it’s a game or two. Sometimes it’s a streak of performances. But if the 23-year-old can put together consistent performances over an entire season – or even just a month or so – he has the talent and ability to break through with the national team and challenge for real playing time.
Agudelo will be a part of the March qualifiers if Arena chooses to carry four forwards and if the coach looks at Gyasi Zardes as a winger and not a striker. Right now, though, Agudelo has some work to do if he wants to continue to push into the national team picture.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.