After starting the season as a week-in, week-out starter, Juan Agudelo took a knock to the knee—and almost immediately fell out of the fold. In his absence, Charlie Davies stayed hot, netting four mid-summer goals.
Now, after a series of effective substitute appearances, Agudelo appears poised to steal the No. 9 spot from Davies. We offer four reasons why Jay Heaps should make the swap.
1. He's in better form than Davies.
In five September matches, Charlie took just three shots on frame (no goals). In three of those matches, he was held without an on-target shot. Of course, stats don't tell the whole story. But in the vast majority of his September appearances, Charlie struggled to acclimate himself to the flow of the match, often running away from the play while struggling to effectively hold possession.
Agudelo, on the other hand, has followed an opposite trajectory. In his past two appearances (totaling 55 minutes), the pacey forward hit three shots on goal and set up a pair of goal-scoring opportunities. Though his last tally came in early September against Orlando City SC, Agudelo has looked increasingly dangerous; he nearly found the net on three separate occasions against the Union last weekend. On form alone, Agudelo looks worthy of a spot in the Starting XI.
2. He's finally healthy.
A starter for the first 14 matches of the season, Agudelo suffered a knee injury while training with the U.S. Men's National Team in June. The injury forced Agudelo into a reserve role. While working his way back to full fitness, he has served as Jay Heaps' firestarter off the bench, making 11 appearances between late June and late September. Now, fresh off a 35-minute substitute appearance, Agudelo looks fit and ready to make an impact.
In a mid-September interview with Craig Forde, Heaps commented on Agudelo's fitness: "Juan had to take a step back to go forward. Some players take that step back and never move forward. Juan has definitely moved forward."
A return to the Starting XI would serve as the final step forward for Agudelo, who picked up an assist in his last start, a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
3. He fits the system.
At the beginning of the season, Heaps frequently deployed Agudelo as a wide midfielder, giving Davies the lion's share of starts up top. The experiment was met with mixed results. In 17 starts, Agudelo netted three goals while playing as a midfielder (and one as a forward), though he often looked ill-suited for life on the wing. During Agudelo's absence from the Starting XI, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe played into peak form, driving Heaps to use Agudelo as a second-half substitute for Davies.
Over time, it has become increasingly apparent that Agudelo's skillset fits the center forward spot better than any other. In recent appearances, he has looked crafty in the box, made dangerous runs at goal and outmuscled defenders to win key headers.
In his same interview with Craig Forde, Heaps praised Agudelo's progress in the No. 9 spot: "I really like the way he's adapted to his role playing a No. 9. At the beginning of the year we used him a lot more as a wide forward, but now we're definitely seeing him more as a No. 9."
4. He has Chicago's number.
In his last start against the Fire (Aug. 17, 2013), Agudelo received a flawless long-ball from Chris Tierney and beat Sean Johnson with a cheeky heel-flick. The Revolution went on to win, 2-0. Earlier that season, Agudelo scored against Chicago as a member of Chivas USA, a sublime, curling finish to seal a win for the now-defunct club. History repeats itself, they say...
What do you think? Should Jay Heaps pull the trigger and insert Agudelo in the Starting XI? Vote below.