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Farewell To A Star: Juan Pablo Angel

The recent news of Juan Pablo Angel's retirement from professional soccer is the impetus for this retrospective look at his Red Bulls tenure. Angel was the first true star player in the rebranded Red Bulls and played a pivotal role in the history of the franchise.

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The recent news that Juan Pablo Angel has decided to retire from professional soccer is a good reason for us here at Once A Metro to reflect back on his career. He spent six years in Major League Soccer, four of those years were spent with the New York Red Bulls. Angel played with the Red Bulls from 2007-2010, a critical four year period for the club because it was immediately following the ownership change and the rebranding of the club from the MetroStars to the Red Bulls.

Juan Pablo Angel was the first bona-fide star in the Red Bulls portion of the history of the club. The Colombian arrived from Aston Villa amid great fanfare and media coverage in the Spring of 2007. His signing as a Designated Player was announced on April 17, 2007 but his debut was delayed until May 8, 2007 when his visa was approved.

On a personal note, I was working in New York City at the time, and I remember taking the PATH train into work: all the people around me were reading the announcement of his signing with the Red Bulls in various newspapers that were in numerous different languages. His signing legitimized the Red Bulls rebranding effort because he was a proven offensive goal scorer who was still young. His signing was a departure from MLS gaining international players who were in the later stages of their respective careers.

Angel quickly made his presence known at his new club , and made an immediate impact on a roster that already had some talent. I remember thinking back then that he was the personnel move the Red Bulls needed to take a good team and make it that much better. The first stand out performance Angel, or JPA - as Red Bulls fans would affectionately refer to him - had was in scoring two goals in a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in May 2007.

In the 2007 season he also became the first New York player to score in 6 straight games, he was named MLS Player of the Month for May, and he scored a goal in the All Star Game in July. The Red Bulls had a true offensive force on their side, and it helped shaped a great run that season. His goal in a game in September against Real Salt Lake was his 17th goal of the season, which was a new franchise record. I watched that game on television and knew it would be a special moment for the team, and myself as a fan, for a long time to come. JPA, as he came to be known, would finish with 19 goals in the 2007 season.

The Bridge

The Red Bulls would finish 2007 in 3rd place, they were eliminated in the playoffs by their nemesis, the New England Revolution. In the deciding match, Juan Pablo left during the course of the action with a head injury, I recall him pleading his case to return to the match, but the coaching staff kept him on the sideline. The Red Bulls would go on to lose and be eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs, we would find out later that Angel had sustained a concussion. His passion for the game and for the team really inspired and resonated with the fans.

In 2008 he began the season with another injury, this one to his lower back which created nerve damage effecting his hamstring. Angel would struggle with that injury for the entire 2008 campaign, but would still score 14 goals in 23 matches. The memory of 2008 that stands out for me, and I have a few, is the match in the summer time against Chivas USA, a 1-0 win where JPA scored the lone goal and limped off the field. I remember watching at home and feeling a sense of concern that he may miss considerable time. He did injure his hamstring again, it was a strained muscle, but he played with so much passion and resilience. It was awesome to see. JPA ended up missing four games with the injury, but it was his persistence that I remember.

The 2008 MLS Cup Playoffs were magical for the Red Bulls and their fans. New York entered the tournament as a wild card 5th seeded team and they eliminated the Houston Dynamo, a top team in those years. They advanced to face Real Salt Lake in the Conference Finals and the Red Bulls advanced in a dramatic and riveting playoff to meet the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup Final.

Although the Red Bulls lost that 2008 Cup Final, Juan Pablo Angel and that edition of the Red Bulls represents the bridge that moved fans from the MetroStars days to fully embrace our new team and the concept of the Red Bulls. It was a pivotal year in the history of the franchise from the standpoint of on-field performance and from a marketing perspective as well.

Highs To Lows

The 2008 season was the "high water mark" for the franchise, so the expectations in 2009 were high. The season started out badly, and never recovered. The 2009 season was a debacle, it was one of the worst in the history of the franchise, the team finished in last place with just 5 wins.

However, despite all of that disappointment, Juan Pablo Angel still managed to lead the team in scoring with 12 goals. His tally on September 26, 2009 with the Red Bulls visiting Chivas USA was his 46th goal with the Red Bulls which made him the all-time goal scoring leader in franchise history. His performance that season was the lone bright spot in a season that many of us wish to forget.

Slowing Down

The 2010 season began slowly for JPA and then he picked up his scoring with 11 goals in the first half of the season. However, he would score just 2 goals in the second half of the season calendar and looked like he was fading at points down the stretch, to finish with 13 goals.

The Red Bulls would finish the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and headed into the playoffs with both the players and the fans expectation for a deep playoff run. The team had a roster loaded with stars including newly signed Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. Everyone was thinking that the MLS Cup was within reach of the 2010 Red Bulls team.

Despite all of that talent, and having a fabulous regular season, New York was eliminated in the playoffs by the San Jose Earthquakes. Juan Pablo Angel scored a crucial goal in that aggregate series to tie it 2-2 but Chris Wondolowski scored for San Jose to eliminate the Red Bulls 3-2. It would be the last goal that JPA would score in a Red Bulls uniform.

The Red Bulls front office made the decision to decline Juan Pablo Angel's contract option after the 2010 season ended. In retrospect, that decision was due to a variety of factors: JPA's slow second half of that season coupled with the signings of Henry and Marquez were chief among the choice to decline his option. He was an important bridge also to the Thierry Henry era of the club which began essentially, when JPA's tenure ended.

In the end, Juan Pablo Angel would appear in 102 regular-season games for the Red Bulls and score regular-season 58 goals for the club in the four years he played in the Big Apple (He had 62 goals in 112 games in all competitions over his RBNY career). Moreover, he played a crucial role in solidifying the rebranding of the team to the Red Bulls. His passion and exciting style of play will be remembered by Red Bulls fans. His achievements helped us all to embrace the concept of the Red Bulls and began a whole new era for the franchise.

We here at Once A Metro wish him all the very best in his retirement and thank him for all the memories.