Philadelphia, PA – There will be more than three points on the line when Red Bull New York welcomes Chivas USA to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.
Sure, the Red Bulls are seeking a franchise-best sixth straight league win that would see them extend their lead atop the Eastern Conference to four points. But many eyes will be glued to Juan Pablo Angel, who is expected to make his return to RBA after a decorated stint in New York.
Angel joined the Red Bulls in May 2007 from English Premier League club Aston Villa, where he made a lasting impact. Villa supporters still adore the Colombian, regarded as one of the club's top strikers over the past few decades.
The move to New York was undeniably a masterstroke in the transfer market as Angel finished the 2007 season with 19 goals in only 24 games. He went on to become New York's all-time leading scorer, netting 58 goals and adding 14 assists in 102 regular-season appearances.
His time in New York came to a somewhat abrupt end at the conclusion of the 2010 season as he was ushered out of the club in favor of Thierry Henry - the Frenchman arrived at the club in July of that summer - and emerging Red Bulls Academy product Juan Agudelo. Angel was picked up by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2010 MLS Re-Entry Draft but only managed to score three goals in 22 appearances. He was dealt to Chivas in August 2011 and caught fire, producing seven goals in only nine games.
Angel's exit was taken with a great deal disappointment by Red Bulls supporters. He was more than a just potent scorer. He was a consummate professional. A leader. Their captain.
But his release from the Red Bulls (or anyone else's, for that matter) should never have come as a surprise. New York has long had a penchant for dealing fan-favorites against the will of its supporters.
Take the most recent example. Agudelo, the young striker whom the Red Bulls seemed to be adamant on protecting and nurturing, was traded to the Goats just last week in exchange for defender Heath Pearce.
Agudelo's departure was the last in a long line of promising players who have left New York. Since the league's inception in 1996, Giovanni Savarese, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Dave van den Bergh and Tim Ream have all come into the New York franchise only to depart to the great disappointment of the fans who supported them.
The franchise can't be at fault for promising players like Howard, Bradley, Altidore and Ream departing for Europe - it would be wrong to deny those players the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of competing abroad against the best of the best. But Angel has a great deal of company in the category of former players staying in the league and coming back to haunt the Red Bulls organization.
Eddie Gaven was a staple with the club for three seasons, making his MetroStars debut as a 16-year-old before being controversially traded to the Columbus Crew for Edson Buddle before the 2006 season. Gaven had the last laugh, though, helping the Crew to MLS Cup glory in 2008 in a 3-1 defeat of the Red Bulls in the final.
New York did not handle Buddle's arrival particularly well, either. The striker scored six goals in 28 appearances with the Red Bulls and the club, losing patience with the lack of return on its investment, prematurely dealt the striker to Toronto FC. After eventually moving to the Galaxy, Buddle went on to become one of the best strikers in MLS, posting 42 goals in 87 appearances from 2007-10. He even came back to Red Bull Arena in August 2010 and scored the lone goal in a 1-0 defeat of the Red Bulls.
Mike Magee was a fan favorite in New York, a hard-working player who flew under the radar but always played an important supporting role. He was traded to the Galaxy in 2009 and scored against the Red Bulls in the opening match of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals at Red Bull Arena. Los Angeles ousted New York and went on to win MLS Cup.
Then there was Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian, acquired in a trade with Toronto FC in April 2011, was viewed as the perfect solution to New York's creative deficiencies in the center of midfield. De Rosario did not last three months with the Red Bulls as he was traded to D.C. United last June. He returned to Red Bull Arena 12 days later and scored his first goal for United in a 1-0 win, adding insult to injury for Red Bulls fans.
With the trend of former players coming back to New York and turning out instrumental performances, the stars could very well be aligned for a similar outcome Wednesday.
Agudelo is unavailable for the match with a call-up to the U.S. national team, but Angel is more than capable of grabbing a goal to bite the hand that once fed him.