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It's all 'great' for Freddy Adu
by Mike Woitalla, February 15th, 2008 6:30AM
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[AMERICANS ABROAD] Freddy Adu was a late sub, as has been the norm since he joined Benfica last summer, on Thursday in UEFA Cup play. But the 18-year-old, who saw much more playing time in MLS, says he's perfectly happy in Portugal. Soccer America's Mike Woitalla spoke with Adu while he was on U.S. national team duty ...

"Great. Great," says Adu when asked to about his run with Benfica. "I'd love to be playing a lot more, but things are going great and I'm learning a lot."

Adu entered for Benfica in the 85th minute in its 1-0 win over FC Nuremberg in the UEFA Cup first leg round-of-32 game. In his nine league appearances, Adu has come off the bench late, usually playing the final 10 minutes or so. In three and a half MLS seasons, Adu played 98 games and made 69 starts.

"I'm working hard for playing time," says Adu, one of the more than 30 players on Benfica's roster. "And I'm eager to play no matter how late in the game I get in."

Benfica, currently in second place, averages nearly 40,000 fans per home games.

"It's so much fun playing in that kind of atmosphere," he says. "It's great living in a place where everyone's crazy about soccer.

"I feel very comfortable. And it's getting even better now that I speak some Portuguese."

Adu, whose MLS career began at age 14, is still one of the youngest members of his team, but says he no longer feels like the young guy.

"Everybody gets treated the same no matter what age they are," Adu says.

When Adu moved from MLS on a $2 million transfer, he was greeted by a 100-strong press corps upon landing in Portugal. He debuted with a 63-minute appearance off the bench in a 2-1 European Champions League preliminary-round game in August.

But the coach who signed him, Fernando Santos, was replaced after the first league game, by Jose Camacho.

Camacho kept Adu out of the lineup until a cup game in late September. Adu entered the field, scored from the penalty spot for a late equalizer, and connected again in the victorious penalty kick shootout.

Three days later he made his league debut as an 82nd minute sub against Sporting Lisbon before a home crowd of 48,222.

Adu has scored three cup goals and has struck twice in league play, including the late gamewinner over Maritimo while Benfica played with a man down in front of a 44,312 home crowd.

"I didn't think I'd get subbed in because we were short-handed," he says. "The way the crowd went crazy after my goal - it was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced."

In October, Adu became the youngest American to play in the Champions League proper when he played 28 minutes against Celtic.

Adu says his performance for the USA at the U-20 World Cup, where he scored a hat trick against Poland and assisted on both goals in a 2-1 win over Brazil, for making his move abroad possible.

"It was a make it or break it tournament for me," Adu said, "because I really wasn't having a good MLS season. It's why Benfica was interested."

Adu made one full national team appearance while still in MLS, coming off the bench in a January 2006 friendly against Canada.

He returned to the fold under Coach Bob Bradley in October 2007, coming of the bench in a 1-0 tie at Switzerland. He started in a 1-0 win at South Africa, and on Feb. 6 played 27 minutes in the USA's 2-2 with Mexico in Houston in front of 70,103 fans.

"I felt great," he said. "I was excited. It's great to be a part of something like this. My instruction was -- get in game, help us get a little more possession. When you get put in as forward your job is to hold the ball, get chances, get free kicks, and that's what I was able to do."

Being a regular part of the national team makes Adu all the more sure that his move abroad was the right one.

"I think I've improved my game all-around," he says. "No doubt about it."


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