The New York Red Bulls have had success developing superb talents that become big contributors for the United States Men’s National Team. USMNT first-team regulars Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore all spent the entirety of their MLS careers with the franchise, before moving on to bigger things in Europe.
The team may have two more names to add to that list.
After Saturday night’s friendly against Chile, current Red Bulls Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo continued their sharp form and further established themselves on the international stage.
Both players earned their second cap for the USMNT and impressed many.
Ream, who started and played every single minute for the Red Bulls in his rookie season, went the full 90 for the Americans. His composure and communication skills, for the most part, were good.
What was best though, and what drew a lot of attention during the MLS season, was his passing ability from the back. Ream does a good job seeing the field and getting the ball out cleanly. The good attack in the run of play that led to the penalty kick started with a Ream pass up the field.
There is a strong group of center backs ahead of Ream on the depth chart, but his performances in MLS and the last two friendlies with the USA have been good. He’s not far off the pace and those ahead of him are older, making Ream a real possibility for the 2014 World Cup. One thing he has done recently is move ahead of Omar Gonzalez as the better center back prospect, although the two do make a good combination that hopefully can grow together.
The player that drew the penalty kick to set up the equalizer against Chile was teen-sensation forward Juan Agudelo. He stole the spotlight in the friendly against South Africa in November, scoring in the 85th minute.
Against Chile, he came on as a substitute in the 60th minute and, along with fellow youngster Teal Bunbury, really provided a spark to a stalling US attack. Like Ream and Gonzalez, Agudelo and Bunbury are developing a good chemistry together (some are comparing their rise to the recent pairing of Altidore and Charlie Davies).
Agudelo is strong when dribbling at someone and can either play up top or out wide on the wing. The Red Bulls—where Agudelo was a rookie/home-grown player this past season—attempted to bring him on slowly, but when they started him in the final two games of the regular season and both playoff games, those plans quickly changed.
Each time he has stepped onto the pitch, be it for club or country, the excitement level of the fanbase grows. The difficulty for the Red Bulls, as well as Bob Bradley (more so with Agudelo than Ream) will be tempering expectations with his development. There is still a lot of room to grow and it is important that his development not get stunted with lofty expectations and ill-advised transfers.
For the Red Bulls, Agudelo should join Ream in the starting lineup in 2011. On the field they will provide lots of energy and creative talent going forward.
Off the field, as their status with the USMNT improves, their marketability will do the same. Add them to main attractions Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, and the Red Bulls should be able to pack the stadium.
There are a couple of concerns, however. Firstly, the question often asked is how much longer the Red Bulls will be lucky enough to deploy these two talented players. Young and skilled, transfer rumors will swirl and, eventually, the two will follow in the footsteps of players like Howard, Altidore and Bradley and take their games to the next level.
From what Red Bull ownership is saying, that time is still a couple of years away though, and until that day comes, the team should just focus on doing the best they can while they have these talents.
Also, as they secure their spots on the national team they will frequently be unavailable to the club during the season. For example, the CONCACAF Gold Cup will be played this summer, overlapping with the MLS regular season. Both have an outside shot of making the squad and if they do, they will leave the team for the duration of the tournament.
The Red Bulls—like the whole league—are no stranger to losing players to international duty, however, they do know how to handle the situation.
What is most important is that the team currently holds two of the brightest young soccer stars in America, and they will be strong contributors to the club trying to win its first championship in the history of the franchise.
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