Leaving Juan Agudelo off roster costs U.S. its place in Under-20 World Cup
No matter what other excuses are offered, the simple truth is that the U.S. failed to qualify for this summer's FIFA Under-20 World Cup because it failed to include New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo on its roster.
For that, Coach Thomas Rongen and his staff must take the blame -- unless it turns out that the Red Bulls refused to release the 18-year-old rising star.
The U.S., which had qualified for the previous seven editions of the tournament, was knocked out of contention on Wednesday night when it lost, 2-1, to Guatemala in the quarterfinals of the regional qualifying tournament.
The four quarterfinal winners -- Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama -- each qualified for the Under-20 World Cup, to be played in Colombia July 29 through Aug. 20.
But the U.S. fell by the wayside because it could not score the goals that Agudelo very likely could have provided. If he is capable of scoring goals for the full U.S. national team against the likes of South Africa and Argentina, then he most definitely would not have been intimidated by the crowd at the Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores in Guatemala City.
Even Rongen afterward admitted that Agudelo could have made a difference.
"In hindsight, if you have [Norwegian-based winger] Josh Gatt here or Juan Agudelo, obviously your options off the bench are a little bit better," he said.
But Agudelo should not even have been considered as a substitute. He should have started the match. It was in the early going, when Guatemala still was unsure of the opposition it was facing, that the game was lost. That's when goal-poacher Agudelo could have taken advantage.
"I think we lost the game early on, with two or three very good chances in the first 10 minutes," Rongen said. "That sometimes, or a lot of times, comes back to haunt you."
Guatemala, urged on by a vocal crowd of 13,805, took the lead on a goal by Gerson Lima. The U.S. tied it up when Conor Doyle found the back of the net but, three minutes after Doyle's goal, Henry Lopez scored the winner for the host nation.
Costa Rica routed Cuba, 6-1; Mexico shut out Canada, 3-0, and Panama upset Honduras, 2-0, to earn their places alongside Guatemala in the world championship.
The U.S., meanwhile, will watch from the sideline because it blew its roster selection.
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Photo: Juan Agudelo #17 of the New York Red Bulls reacts during their game against the Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena on April 2, 2011 in Harrison, New Jersey. Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images