CARSON, Calif. – Despite having starred for years with clubs like River Plate and Aston Villa, LA Galaxy striker Juan Pablo Ángel has never faced the situation before him now.
When Ángel plays against New York at The Home Depot Center on Saturday (11 pm ET/8 pm PT, ESPN2/Deportes/ESPN3.com), it will be the first time he’s played against one of his old clubs in league play.
Will seeing the Red Bulls’ colors stir emotions inside of him? Certainly, but Ángel says he's prepared to handle whatever rises to the surface.
“I’ve been in the game long enough and I try to just focus on what I have to do,” he said. “The emotions are going to be there, you just have to deal with them. But you have to be able to concentrate on what you have to do.”
Ángel spent four prolific seasons with the Red Bulls, scoring 58 regular-season goals and helping New York reach their one and only MLS Cup, in 2008. His tenure with the club, though, ended suddenly as he was essentially tossed aside by New York, banished to the Re-Entry Draft where he was picked up by the Galaxy.
If a parting of the ways was difficult, it’s not something that keeps him up at night.
“Life goes on,” Ángel said. “People come and go and [now] I’m part of this extraordinary club.”
Ángel is still trying to find his way with the Galaxy, having scored just once in eight games. He returned to the starting lineup against FC Dallas last weekend after starting the previous two matches on the bench.
It’s almost the polar opposite of the way his run in New York began. In his first game in a Red Bulls uniform, Ángel scored a goal – ironically, at The Home Depot Center against the Galaxy – in a US Open Cup play-in match. In his first full month in the league – May 2007 – Ángel picked up MLS Player of the Month honors. He scored 19 regular-season goals in 2007, his first of four consecutive double-digit goal seasons.
Teammates embraced him. Coaches respected him. Supporters idolized him. And now, Ángel is with another MLS club.
“Strange feelings and emotions," he said. [RBNY are] a team that I played for for a number of years. This is part of the business and I’m now part of the Galaxy and I want to defend this club as hard as I did with the Red Bulls. There are a lot of people I played with, worked with for a number of years. My gratitude will always be there for them, for the fans, for the franchise, for everybody that were part of my time there.”
New York will enter the match with a full head of steam. The Red Bulls have won their last three games by a combined 8-0 score. The offense is firing as Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers have scored three goals apiece in that span while the defense is clamping down opponents with relative ease.
“This is by far the best squad they’ve had in New York ever,” Ángel said. “They’re building something that is going to be important for them and that is going to be successful. That’s what they’re trying to do, achieve success.”
Ángel’s run in New York may not have produced any championships but it was an important four-year span in his life.
“I will always be grateful,” Ángel said. “I have a lot of good memories and life goes on. For me, just close the chapter and write my own history here.”