Angel’s Last Prayer Answered
Forgive Juan Pablo Angel if he’s feeling a bit like Marty McFly these days, as we take you back, and then to the future. Over 12 years ago, the Colombian hitman joined Argentine powerhouse River Plate from his hometown club, Atletico Nacional of Medellin. For two seasons, Angel was in heaven, playing alongside the likes of Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar, Santiago Solari, and Ariel Ortega. With the plethora of talent around him, Angel managed to notch an amazing tally of 45 goals in 91 matches, including 16 more in 25 Copa Libertadores games. To no surprise, those outstanding numbers caught the eye of several European clubs, but none more than Aston Villa, which dished out a then club record $18.8 million in January 2001 to acquire his services. However, despite the big pay day, Angel would pay the price on the pitch at Villa Park. Angel went from playing alongside players who distributed that ball as if the ball were attached to their feet like yo-yo’s, to playing with mostly a bunch of dodo’s in 6 ½ seasons in Birmingham. Why do I say that? Well, because I’ve been a Villa supporter for nearly 20 years, and unfortunately got to see Angel waste a lot of his prime years leading the Lions attack with players who couldn’t keep opposing defenders from double-teaming Angel, and/or couldn’t spell c-r-e-a-t-i-v-i-t-y if you spotted them every letter except for the “c”. Don’t believe me? Here’s just a few of the names that Angel had to play with in order to find the back of the net for the Claret and Blue: Darius Vasell, Marcus Allback, Peter Crouch (who I actually liked, but Villa never played to his strengths), Luke Moore, his just as bad brother Stefan Moore, Milan “I suckered clubs into big contracts with my one-in-a-lifetime performance at Euro 2004” Baros, Gabriel “I don’t like to score after Christmas” Agbonlahor, Paul Merson (who was waaay past his prime at the time), Dion Dublin (see Merson), Gareth Barry (who wasn’t as offensive as he is now), Bosko Balaban, Mark Atkinson, Mustapha Hadji (past his prime at the time, but the Moroccan wizard was still the only one with a hint of creativity) and Michael Boulding (who was actually a converted tennis player. I swear it’s a true story) just to name a few. Milan Baros (at your left), I mean, seriously. However, despite no real decent help in the final third of the pitch during his time at Villa Park, only Dwight Yorke managed to score more goals for the Villans since 1991. In the Spring of 2007, Angel would then leave the West Midlands for the Big Apple only to find himself with less offensive talent to play with then the ones he left behind. The only bit of hope was Claudio Reyna, but as we all know, the concrete floor of Giants stadium ate up the remaining years of Captain America’s fabulous career, and kept us from possibly seeing a newer and better version of the Valderrama-Lassiter deadly combo from years past. Still, since his arrival in 2007, no one has scored more goals during the MLS regular season than Angel: 57 goals in 94 games. Landon Donovan is next with 45 tallies in 91 matches. You can argue that Angel is one of the best 3 strikers ever to play in the MLS. Former New York Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing has gone even further by saying that the Colombian is the best MLS striker, ever. Ring.. Ring Angel: Yes. NYRB GM Erick Soler: Juan Pablo, great news, we’ve just signed Thierry Henry. Angel: PLOP!! NYRB GM Erick Soler: Juan Pablo? Juan Pablo? The call Angel has been waiting for since the day he left Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires over 10 years ago, finally reached his cell phone last month. For Angel, the call was more like a call from Doc telling him that the DeLorean was ready to take him back to a time when he last played alongside someone who he felt was as good, if not better than him. Is Angel happy? Well, let’s just say that I can’t remember the last time I saw Angel smile so much. Maybe the only people with bigger smiles are the ones working at 420 Fifth Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY, 10018, which is where you’ll find the offices of Major League Soccer. Yes, Angel and Henry haven’t quite clicked yet, but you can see it coming. Just look back at Henry’s first MLS match earlier this month against Houston. Angel scores two goals and each assist came from the Frenchman. The understanding and ambition between the two men is certainly evident. Just watch them play, and you can see something very special is brewing. A quick flick here, a quality anticipated pass there, and it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing what could possibly be the most prolific striking partnership the league has ever seen. But is it too late for Angel? Is Angel’s answered prayer nothing more then a tease of a wishful thought that might prove to be too good to be true? The reason I ask is because I’ve heard a few whispers around the Red Bulls offices that Angel, who has a contract with the Red Bulls through at least 2011, might be out of New York after this season due to his age and salary. Is fate playing a cruel joke on Angel? Or will fate let the Medellin native enjoy his final playing years re-living a time when soccer was fun and every time his boots touched a pitch meant that their was a very good chance that either he was going to score at least one goal, or someone else was going to do the same thanks to one of his passes? Thanks to the arrival of Henry, and Rafa Marquez’s masterful free kicks and passes, Angel is once again thriving on that same thought process of yesteryear. Will he be around to enjoy it next season? Will his body hold up? Will he jell with Henry? Who knows, but what is for certain is that at least for the time being Angel is enjoying every second of his back to the future moment thanks to Henry and Marquez, who both make Juan Pablo feel as if the flux capacitor is anything but a Hollywood dream, rather a reality that makes him feel as if he were once again wearing the famed River Plate jersey alongside Saviola, Aimar, Solari, and Ortega.