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Alex Labidou: New York Red Bulls failed to properly honor Juan Pablo Angel's return

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Alex Labidou: New York Red Bulls failed to properly honor Juan Pablo Angel's return
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Alex Labidou: New York Red Bulls failed to properly honor Juan Pablo Angel's return

HARRISON, N.J. -- Juan Pablo Angel turned back the clock in Chivas USA's 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls. Not just a few years, either. Maybe a decade.

It's too bad that the New York Red Bulls have apparently forgotten a vital member of their history.

The Red Bulls surprisingly went out of their way to ignore the 58 goals scored by Angel in his four years with the club. There was no video tribute to Angel prior to the match and the team's webpage failed to mention him leading up to the match, instead featuring Heath Pearce against his former Chivas teammates.

Yet, Angel found a way to make New York and its fans remember just how special he was for the club.

The 36-year-old scored the game's opening goal with a spectacular side volley off of a header from Rauwshan McKenzie. It was a fitting finish by Angel, who should have been properly acknowledged by Red Bulls as one of the team's former icons.

Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser downplayed Angel looking forward to returning to Red Bull Arena but the Colombian striker admitted the match was significant for him.

"Obviously, it was emotional for me. It was my first time back since leaving the club," Angel said. "You have in the back of your head all of the memories, the time that you spent here with the supporters."

As Angel walked into the visitors' locker room, he greeted long-time Red Bulls beat reporters by saying, "Hey, it's my family."

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It was clear to see that Angel still misses New York. Angel's exit from the organization wasn't easy as he was left in the dark about his future during the 2010 season, contrasting with his bright tenure at the club.

The former Aston Villa player became the organization's first Designated Player in 2007 and he carried the Red Bulls to their first MLS Cup appearance, losing to the Columbus Crew 3-1 in 2008. He also mentored two of New York's top young starlets in Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo and helped in recruiting the team's current DPs, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.

Altidore even credited Angel as one of the reasons why he was successful during his first year in AZ Alkmaar.

"The first thing he told me was, 'It's going to be a process, Jozy. You're not going to go there and have success [right away]. It's going to be kind of how it was with the Red Bulls. You're going to have to wait for a few years until you get a chance to show your ability,'" Altidore told Goal.com back in February.

At least his former head coach, teammates and fans didn't forget his accomplishments. New York's head coach Hans Backe knew that Angel was going to be motivated for Wednesday's game.

"It's quite expected," Backe said. "I would have expected him to score the winner too in the last dying minutes."

He added, "That's the way it is, it always happens like that. He’s a clinical finisher and if you have a team that will feed him around the 18-yard box, he will still score goals."

Dane Richards shared a pre-match conversation with his former teammate.

"Before the game he said, 'Dane, no sprinting today' and I'm like, 'No scoring today, Juan Pablo,'" he said. "But I sprinted and he scored. So we didn't listen to each other."

And likely most special to Angel was the fans' tribute. The Red Bulls' supporters section unveiled a large banner that said "Gracias Juan Pablo," and the crowd of 13,000 loudly sang, "There's only one Juan Pablo Angel."

Credit the fans for remembering their former hero. It's a shame the club didn't get the memo.

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