The next generation of talent for the United States Men’s National Team could come from anywhere, with players developing all around the world. The pool should undergo changes over the next few years, as under-the-radar talents gain experience and climb the ladder. One potential addition is Agustin Anello, an attacker who recently joined HNK Hajduk Split on loan from Lommel SK. The 20-year-old tri-national has quietly been producing at a regular rate and now has the opportunity to prove himself at a higher level.
Anello was born in Miami, Florida with “crocodiles in the backyard” that were kept at bay by the family dog. At the age of ten, he moved to Barcelona, Spain and trained with Espanyol before relocating to Belgium. His childhood was something of an odyssey across Europe, teaching valuable lessons for a professional sporting career.
“Due to the low salaries in Spain and the high rents, we had to get by on very little,” he told Het Belang van Limburg. “There was even a moment when we had nothing left and we threatened to end up on the street. My father then asked my aunt [for] 50 euros to pay for a plane ticket to Belgium. He started working here in the construction industry and, after three months, my mother and I followed him… It was hard to see my parents work so hard, but they didn’t reap the benefits. There was no money, so sometimes there was nothing on the table at all… As a footballer, I now experience the other side.”
Following a trial setup by his father, Anello joined the Lommel academy at the U-18 level and was quickly promoted to the U-21 team, with a brief failure to secure a contract at Antwerp FC in between. He described the club under the City Football Group umbrella as “a great environment for development.” In February of 2021, the attacker was included in the match-day roster twice but failed to make an appearance.
Bekijk hier nogmaals naar het prachtige doelpunt van Anello pic.twitter.com/ixhisYjrz7— Lommel SK (@LommelSKOff) January 22, 2023
The following July, Anello was promoted to the Lommel first team, which competes in the second tier of Belgium, and was awarded a three-year professional contract after “convincing everyone of his talent and work ethic.” He began his first full season in the starting lineup, starting at centre-forward in a 3-2 loss to Waasland-Beveren (now known as S.K. Beveren). His best run of form came in September, registering an assist against Lierse and his first professional goal in a 2-1 win over RWDM. However, that was his only finish across 23 league and cup appearances, failing to come off the bench for the final four fixtures.
This season, Anello found himself on the right foot under a new manager, contributing a brace and an assist in a 3-0 victory over Jong Genk. However, an early injury forced him to miss four matches. After his return, he went on a tear that began in November, contributing four goals and three assists. Local media termed him a “revelation” as reported interest from top-division sides grew.
In February, Anello secured a loan move to Hajduk Split in the Croatian Hrvatska nogometna liga (HNL) with the option to make the contract permanent. “I can’t wait to start playing for this club,” he told the club’s official website. “Today, I am in Split for the first time. I see at every step how big this club is, how passionate the people are and that’s what particularly impressed me.”
Anello started in his first available match, playing 61 minutes in a 2-1 victory over HNK Gorica. He was once again on the field in the succeeding fixture against first place Dinamo Zagreb alongside fellow American Rokas Pukštas, appearing 69 minutes in the 4-0 loss. Hajduk is currently at second in the league table, 12 points behind Dinamo Zagreb and looking certain to secure qualification to the Europa Conference League. The club reportedly used him in a more defensive wing-back role, which caused local media to question general fit and whether his attacking qualities are being unnecessarily muted. However, his luck may be starting to change after registering a flashy assist in last weekend’s frustrating 4-3 loss to Lokomotiva Zagreb.
Hajduk 1-2 Lokomotiva (40')— Everything About HNL (@AboutHnl) March 5, 2023
Mlakar gets one back for Hajduk after a nice assist from Anello! pic.twitter.com/oZFUJRdBjz
“I’m convinced that the team will be able to turn things in their favor, for the sake of the club, for the sake of the fans who deserve much more than this,” he told the media following the defeat. “Personally, I’m very happy about my first assist in the Hajduk jersey, I fought for it, but in general, it didn’t help us in the end. These are the times we have to show our fighting spirit. I think this is a real opportunity to show everyone, including the fans, what we are made of.”
At the international level, Anello is eligible to represent the United States, Argentina, and Italy, while also having a half-Spanish grandfather. The uncommitted prospect is yet to make an appearance at any age group for his various potential nations. According to a 2021 interview, he feels “first and foremost Argentina and then American,” describing the late Diego Maradona as his “great idol.”
At 6’, Anello is a versatile attacker capable of lining up across the front-line but has mainly been deployed as an inverted left winger, despite his preference being for a “central role behind the strikers,” while utilizing his speed and elusiveness to advance. He possesses a lethal shot from distance, which also proves to be an asset on set piece opportunities, and looks to cut inside to set up himself or a teammate. His creation is similarly useful, whether hitting short- or long-range passes, with a penchant for looping chips over defenders’ heads. His tendency is to hang up the field, waiting to press the opponent and get a jumpstart on the counter-attack.
“This is a player who has high motivation and persistence, as well as a strong desire for success and progress,” said Hajduk Sporting Director Mindaugas Nikoličius. “Through his approach to the game, his South American mentality and competitiveness comes to the fore, which is compatible with our mentality, style and game model. His basic position is the left wing with a dominant right foot, and he can also play as a left winger. He is excellent in the one-on-one game, has a varied and unpredictable dribbling and a high level of speed abilities as well as playing at a high intensity. Although he is a young player, he shows seriousness, tactical discipline and responsibility in the game.”
Unlike some loans, Anello appears to be getting every opportunity to succeed in Croatia with early playing time. His performance over the next few months could determine his status as a prospect and potentially put him on the radar for bigger clubs. If he continues to score goals, then perhaps a call-up to the USMNT will also be in order, despite Argentina being his preferred option.