By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
East Rutherford, NJ (Sports Network) -
Heading into the 2007 Major League Soccer season, Red Bull New York was dangerously thin at the forward position.
But with the signing of Juan Pablo Angel from Aston Villa of the English Premier League in early May, and the emergence of 17-year-old striker Jozy Altidore, the Red Bulls have arguably the best tandem of strikers in the league entering the final third of the season.
Angel has a team-high 10 goals - good for third in the MLS - and Altidore has tickled the twine five times despite missing a month of league action while starring for the U.S. National Team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The scary thing about this duo is that Sunday was just their second start together as forwards. All they did in that game was terrorize Toronto FC's back line with their skill and power while combining to score all three goals in the 3-0 win. Altidore scored two goals - the first multi-goal game of his professional career - while Angel added a goal and an assist.
They split the first two goals by powering deflected balls into the back of the net. Altidore made it 3-0 when he deked past a TFC defender and goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos before blasting home a shot from about 15 yards. That tally earned him the Sierra Mist Goal of the Week.
Juan Pablo Angel has a team-high 10 goals.
"It is really not that hard, to me he takes on the burden," Altidore said of combining with his 31-year-old strike partner. "You just have to kind of run in and sniff out the balls that he wins and just connect. He is a real easy guy to play with."
"We haven't played that much together and (Sunday) we found each other a couple of times," Angel said. "We scored a few goals and that is good. We have to build that partnership in here."
Angel's performance against the Canadian club earned him his second MLS Player of the Week honor after also winning the award in Week 7. His form, along with that of Altidore was also the main reason for New York keeping pace with New England in a tight Eastern Conference race. New York and D.C. both have 30 points, six back of leaders New England.
New York knew it was getting a world-class player when it signed Angel, and he has not disappointed, winning Player of the Month awards in May and June and MVP of the 2007 All-Star game to go along with his Player of the Week awards. But Altidore's surge is not something the team could have predicted despite his size (6-1, 175 pounds and growing), speed and physical talent. Altidore entered his second professional season as somewhat of a wild card in the Red Bulls' minds.
"He is still a young kid, and I'm always careful about making rash projections about young kids, which we see done," New York head coach Bruce Arena said in the preseason. "We are going to give him gradual growth and see him develop. I think he is going to be a good player. He needs a lot of work."
Jozy Altidore has scored five goals despite missing a month of league action while starring for the U.S. National Team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
"We need him to have a big year for us, but we also understand that he is 17," Claudio Reyna, the Red Bulls' other designated player signing and team captain, said before the season. "He is going to have his moments where things don't go well."
Those moments seem to be few and far between, and if he continues on his current growth curve, the Red Bulls could end up losing him to a European club sooner rather than later. He turns 18 in November, and a player of his physical stature who has shown he can finish at the professional level at such a young age is something a lot of clubs are looking for.
"(He is) what I saw last year when I picked him in the draft," former New York and current Toronto head coach Mo Johnston said. "He's someone who's going to be unbelievable. He muscled our back line, he scored two goals. He was a force between the midfield players and strikers. For me, he was better than (Angel Sunday) and the kid's 17-years-old. He's strong and he's going to get better. The only thing is how long can you keep a hold of him because somebody's going to come in and buy him.
"They are two quality players. Juan Pablo, he finished it well, he runs off people well. I still don't think certain players can see him quite enough. He makes quality runs and sometimes doesn't get it," Johnston added.
Despite combining to miss 11 games, Angel and Altidore are one of only two other forward tandems to score a combined 15 league goals this season.
"We know we can improve our strength in that position," Arena said before the season.
That may have been the understatement of the year.