An Offseason Abroad: Juan Agudelo at VfB Stuttgart
Playing more soccer. A simple message, but one that U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has continued to emphasize as critical for a player's development, including members of the U.S. MNT. For the domestic-based players on the National Team who have a longer offseason, Klinsmann used his contacts in Europe to arrange training opportunities in Germany and England, giving them the opportunity to continue training and challenge themselves in a new environment. ussoccer.com spoke with several of the players about their experience, and how it will impact their careers moving forward.
In this first installment, ussoccer.com caught up with Juan Agudelo. The U.S. National Team forward celebrated his 19th birthday on Nov. 23, but instead of being in New Jersey with friends and family, he was in Stuttgart, Germany, getting a taste of the life of a professional footballer in the Bundesliga. VfB Stuttgart is one of the many clubs where Klinsmann played in his professional career and happens to be a stone’s throw from the U.S. MNT head coach’s home town. Agudelo spent nearly two weeks training with the club, developing an appreciation for the level for the play and a greater understanding of what it takes to be a successful professional.
ussoccer.com: What were your expectations heading into this opportunity at Stuttgart?
Juan Agudelo: “I was excited to see how professional teams in Europe train and if there was any difference between that and my experience so far. I also wanted to see how the players handled themselves on a daily basis.”
ussoccer.com: You went into a club that is in the middle of their season and obviously focused on their games in the Bundesliga, which isn’t always the easiest time. How were you received?
JA: “They treated me very well from the start. They have a lot of respect for Jurgen Klinsmann at the club, so they treated me like I was one of his disciples. As soon as I got there, they were really helpful. In training, both coaches and players were giving me advice on how to improve my game.”
ussoccer.com: As you got into your first training sessions, what was your impression?
JA: “I feel like there’s a real discipline and a professional approach. Once you get into the locker room, it’s all business. The coaching and the practices are really intelligent. Overall, there’s a good quality. Everything is focused and there is strong competition, so it makes everybody battle and work hard in every training session.”
ussoccer.com: Playing against quality opposition is always beneficial, particularly for a young player. What were some of the things you picked up in training?
JA: “It’s made me understand better how focused you need to be every single day. Concentration can eliminate a lot of little mistakes. The players are all very good technically. You also have to think a lot quicker before you get the ball, because they are coming at you 100 miles an hour.”
ussoccer.com: Was there any specific advice the players gave to you?
JA: “One thing they emphasized with me was working on holding the ball better when I can’t find anyone to play and using my body to shield until I can find an open player.”
ussoccer.com: Takes us through a typical day…
JA: “I’d have breakfast before training in the morning, which was about two hours. If there was time after, I’d maybe take a nap. Sometimes there were second training sessions in the afternoon for two hours. At that point, you are just getting something to eat at the restaurant by the hotel and resting.”
ussoccer.com: Did you get to the Klinsmann family bakery?
JA: “I know about it, but I didn’t have the time to go there. I was too busy training, and I didn’t have a car.”
ussoccer.com: Off the field, what was the cultural experience like?
JA: “The passion for soccer is just totally different here. When you go into bars and restaurants, the only sport they watch is soccer. In the stadium, Stuttgart was playing the last place team and the stadium was still full with 60,000 fans. It just shows how much they love the sport here.”
ussoccer.com: Did you pick up any of the language?
JA: “I’ve learned new German words for right, left, good morning and thank you.”
ussoccer.com: Why ‘right’ and ‘left’?
JA: “There’s an exercise where they tell you to turn right or left and then take a shot, so that’s how I remember. I messed it up the first time, but then I got the hang of it.”
ussoccer.com: As a young professional, what will you be taking away from this experience?
JA: “For one, I’m going to take away confidence. I felt like I was able to hold my own here. I have a better understanding of what the level is like in Europe. I know that I have to fight for a spot and keep my position no matter what team I am on, and I want to try to bring a professional approach to work every day. It’s inspired me.”