NOW OR NEVER?
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GEORGE MURPHY - Sunday, October 4, 2009
Earlier this week, I watched the AEK Athens - Benfica game when I thought to myself: "Wasn't there a yank that played for Benfica at one time?"

Oh wait, I remember who it was. That Adu kid who was supposed to be the savior of American soccer. Freddy, right? How could I forget?

Probably, because, in two seasons in Europe, Fredua Koranteng Adu has played in a total of 27 games, finding the back of the net five times, and hasn't made a significant impact for the National Team.

Yes, Freddy is still only 20 and hopefully has a long career ahead of him, but at what point do American soccer fans start sounding like Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on Pardon The Interruption debating whether or not Freddy should be labeled a "bust".

The expectations were high for Freddy at a young age, but I don't remember one time when Freddy shied away from the spotlight. He always seemed confident that he could shoulder whatever burdens came along with the hope that everyone interested in soccer in this county had that he was, indeed, legit.

I have been a DC United fan ever since MLS started in 1996, attending hundreds of games in the process. Yet, my favorite United memory was when I found out that the MLS forced Dallas to cough up the first pick in the 2004 MLS draft so that Adu would play at RFK.

That may sound silly, but for anyone involved in the Maryland soccer community, this kid was already a legend. One of my friends told the same story every time his name got brought up, (I've still yet to find any proof of it), telling me "I played against Freddy three years ago when he was twelve and he scored four goals in a half".

Did it sound ridiculous that a 12-year old Freddy Adu was playing against 17-year olds? Nope. Freddy had LeBron James type of hype here in the Maryland area before anyone in the country had even heard of him.

After Freddy scored his first-ever professional goal two weeks into his career, it seemed like all of our hopes and expectations were justified and that the kid was indeed a star in the making. United won the 2004 MLS Cup that year and everything seemed to be smooth sailing.

The following summer, in 2005, DC United hosted Chelsea who were coached by Jose Mourinho and who won the English Premier League title the year before. United put up a great fight, but fell to 2-1 thanks to goals from Hernan Crespo and Damian Duff.

Freddy came on as a sub and did a few dances in the corner, but never really looked like he was ready for soccer players who were that big and smart.

However, he was reported by a few newspapers and blogs following the game to have said that Chelsea was a team that he would love to play for, and at the time that seemed like it may become a reality soon enough. I mean, the kid was Freddy Adu; he'd be playing in the Premiership at some point, right?

Well, everything seemed to go down hill after that one game.

Adu had a public spat with head coach Petr Nowak over playing time and formation. Freddy thought that he should be in the playmaker role and starting every game, while Nowak didn't think he was ready and used Adu on the flank, coming off of the bench. Still, Adu never saw a camera or microphone that he didn't like.

He started popping up on Nike ads, and even did a Sierra Mist commercial with the great Pele. Talk about setting the wrong expectations. There were also photos of Freddy, fifteen at the time, drinking and partying with University of Maryland college students.

He was named to the MLS All-Star game in 2005 and 2006, but after Nowak and Adu continued to battle in the media, Adu was traded to Real Salt Lake.

You would think that DC United fans would be devastated over losing their bright young star, right?

Wrong.

In his last two seasons at DC United, Freddy failed to make an impact. He came off to fans as cocky and overhyped, as someone who thought that he was too good for the team and who deserved to be playing top European soccer, and many were happy to see him go.

Only eleven games after being offloaded by DC United, Freddy finally got his chance to move to Europe, sold to Benfica.

And then?

Well, I wish I had more to write about.

I wish that I could tell you that Freddy had featured on a number of occasions for the Portugal super club, but the truth is that he only made hand handful of appearances and scored five times - three in the somewhat meaningless cup competitions.

I wish I could tell you that his loan to Monaco was successful.

And I wish I could tell you that Freddy's loan deal to Belenenses will help convince Bob Bradley that Freddy should be included in the 2010 World Cup roster, but I can't.

Freddy had a good showing in the Under-20 World Cup in 2007, leading the team to the quarterfinals. But, other than that, Freddy still hasn't shown us much and seems to be struggling to live up to the hype.

So, at what point do we agree with the naysayers from the beginning who said "Freddy is too small" or "Freddy is not as good as Nike thinks."?

Adu turned 20 in June. Jozy Altidore is a year younger and seems to be years ahead in terms of how he plays. Other youth teammates of Adu's, such as Charlie Davies (23), Michael Bradley (22), Maurice Edu (23), and Robbie Rogers (22) all are making runs at a World Cup spot, while Adu seems, at the moment, to be on the outside looking in.

This season has to be the season where Freddy settles in at a team and asserts himself in the first-team, or he'll likely find himself right back in Major League Soccer with everyone wondering "What ever happened to that Freddy kid, the soccer player that everyone was talking about with Michelle Wie?"

I guess it was all just hype.
World Football Commentaries
Thursday October 8, 2009 3:30 pm
Perhaps the reason he did well against 17 year olds was because he wasn't really 12 at the time. :-)

He had the opportunity to join the Inter Milan youth system in 2002. He would have developed there without unrealistic and unmerited expectations. For example, look at Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon.

There was no reason for him to finish high school at 15, and be thrust into the limelight as an adolescent by soccer marketers only keen to cash in on the Adu phenomenon. His attitude didn't help matters; however, let's look at who fueled it. The next Pele? Pele's own son, Edinho, could not handle the pressure. It was ridiculous to place such burdens on young Adu. Left alone, he would have been able to progress at a natural pace.

The young man still has time to make his mark, and perhaps it will be a lesson learned on all fronts. Hopefully, he will land at a club where he will receive significant playing time do to further develop his craft.
Chet
Wednesday October 7, 2009 8:18 pm
Americans who jump immediately to top European teams seem to struggle. We just don't offer the competition here in the States to hone a player for immediate insertion into a top level side. A better strategy seems to be to join a mid-level team, and PLAY. I still think that if Donovan had joined, say, Blackburn or Fulham instead of Bayern Munich (both times), he might have had a successful European career. Anyway, back to Adu, while I think he has the skills to play at a top level, he lacks both size and speed, one of latter of which me might get away without, but not both. Still, he could make someone a handy center-mid at some point.
Bobeto
Wednesday October 7, 2009 12:02 pm
I think Adu's USA career sums up the problems with our National Team. Freddie looked like we finally had our International Superstar. He was something special while playing in America but put him out there to compete in the World and he lacks the ability to hold the ball, stay on his feet, defend when needed and the able to beat talented defenders. (sounds familiar) I have always liked this kid but there are these basics missing from his game that International coaches see but his youth coaches in America never taught him. I haven't given up hope because the experience he is getting at practice every day can only help but all the other players will already have these basics down.
Dan
Tuesday October 6, 2009 9:54 pm
Freddy has lots of time yet to develop into a great player. Could he surpass Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey as the top American player? Possibly, based on a comparison of their respective careers at age 20. Donovan by 20 had called it quits in Europe and returned to the MLS and with 0 starts in Europe; and where was Dempsey at age 20? I hope Freddy starts getting playing time and his game continues to improve; I have no reason to think these things won't happen.
Luis
Tuesday October 6, 2009 2:15 pm
I too, lived in D.C. when Adu arrived, and was living in Lisbon when he was hired by Benfica. He is a bust and can't even start at Belenenses, a modest to mediocre team in Portugal's First League. When he had his two-week training camp at Man Utd in 2006 and nothing came of it, it was the handwriting on the wall. America is not where soccer stars are born. We don't have a strong enough League to produce great players. We do it with basketball, football, baseball, but with soccer we're a long ways off. Doing well here means... doing well here. The hype around Adu was bad for him. It shows our soccer reporters don't know much, or else they wouldn't hype him as a savior and help him think he was much better than he is.
Mike
Tuesday October 6, 2009 12:34 pm
Given the potential he had, Adu is a bust. He's already 20 and struggling to find playing time for a OK Portuguese team. He will never be a superstar. He's not a kid; he's a grown man. Twenty is NOT an infant in soccer terms. Almost all the great players are already showing something by this age. Zidane, mentioned below, was a consistent starter from age 18 for a better team and in a better league. Now, if we're lucky, he may turn out to be a good player and have a nice career. Someone who can consistently start for a decent team and a productive national team player. I frankly doubt it given the lack of progress he's shown in the last few years which SHOULD be the years where he's making the greatest progress. But, I don't see how anyone can think he still has superstar potential. That's what he had as one of the top prospects in the world for his age when he was 14, 15, 16, maybe 17. But, it's just not there anymore. There are literally dozens of younger players around the world who are now more likely to become a superstar than Adu.
joe
Monday October 5, 2009 10:36 pm
I'm also a DC united fan who lived in the DC area during Adu's time in DC. Not all fans were happy when he left - I think this is misleading in your article. Yes, we thought he was acting like a teenager when he had spats with Nowak. I think it was good for Freddy to grow. I also loved to watch him play. He is composed in front of a microphone and he has a healthy ego - but also seems to love his teammates and be a friendly guy. When he did his magic on the field at DC United it was special. Next to Moreno and Harkes, he is my favorite DC united player. He also shined at the last U-20 world cup and in the friendly against Spain last year. Think he would have made a huge impact this year in the U-20 World Cup for the US? Heck ya. If you compare him to Pele, first world cup trophy at 17, yes he is a bust. If you compare him to Zindane - he still has a few years before he is labeled a bust (still, I would love to have the career he has already had in soccer).
chris
Monday October 5, 2009 8:37 pm
i would love to see adu live up to the hype. the nats could really use a playmaker to set up altidore and davies. i've seen adu play on several occasions and he seems too small and slow against top level competition. he does have great touch and technical ability, but potential doesn't get you anything, especially in europe. i think the lower division route was the one he should have taken from the begining and getting playing time with a european coach and professional players is key. i'm not ready to write him off yet, but my sights are set on altidore as the first american superstar.
dave
Monday October 5, 2009 7:03 pm
adu is a bust?when will he prove his worth?did you forget that adu is still only 20 and his professional knowledge and experience of the game is still in the infancy stage.do not under estimate the importance of experience.too much hype and bad decisions(yes!benefica was a bad move)have slowed his progress and probably given him a bad image.giving adu the tittle of the saviour of usa soccer is as stupid as wondering who the next mj,ruth,montana,gretzky etc.give the kid a break!let him learn and he will improve.
Ed C.
Monday October 5, 2009 4:21 am
good write-up george. yeah, freddy is still young but he has been around for a bit already. nothing wrong with hype as long as the individual can live up to at least some of it. he's been in europe for a while now but isn't playing? why is that? are all the coaches he played under clueless? i don't think so. there is something wrong here and obviously none of us really know.
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