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4. MLS COUNTDOWN: Real Salt Lake banking on Freddy Adu
March 26th, 2007 4:13PM

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By Mike Woitalla

Freddy Adu mastered his skills playing barefoot soccer on gravelly sandlots in the Ghanaian harbor city of Tema. Then he moved to the USA at age 8 and five years later started getting paid $1 million to wear Nike cleats.

At age 14, he signed with MLS and became the league's highest paid player - a fact that didn't sit well with teammates or opponents.

For his first season, Adu joined D.C. United, which struggled in the early going as players grumbled about Adu's effort and the attention bestowed on the teen -- but league officials could cite attendance figures that justified the boy's salary.

Adu started 14 of the 30 games he played his rookie year, scoring five goals and D.C. United lifted the 2004 title. Adu played the final 25 minutes of its MLS Cup win, but he was hardly instrumental in the title run whose key protagonists included Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez, Ryan Nelsen and Alecko Eskandarian.

Adu played two more seasons with D.C. United and performed adequately - 87 games (59 starts), 11 goals and 17 assists - but well short of the phenom billing.

During the 2005 playoffs, he was suspended for complaining about a lack of playing time.

In 2006, Adu's last game for United was one of his best, but he was subbed by Coach Peter Nowak and watched the last 25 minutes of semifinal playoff defeat from the bench.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when he was traded to Real Salt Lake, whose coach, John Ellinger, was Adu's coach during his happy days with the U.S. U-17s.

"I feel reborn," said Adu. "This is a new chapter in my life. I will get to play my natural position, I'll get games and get better and help this team out."

Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts said, "One of the reasons I hired [Ellinger] was because I knew Freddy wanted to play for him."

Ellinger - and Real Salt Lake - desperately need Adu shine far beyond his previous performances.

Ellinger is the only coach in MLS history to keep his job despite missing the playoffs in two full seasons at the helm.

Checketts needs his team to capture the imagination of a community whose support for his stadium project is lukewarm at best.

That means chalking up some early wins - instead of waiting until its seventh game to notch a victory as it did last season.

Besides Adu, Real Salt Lake hasn't made significant changes. Nick Rimando simply replaces retired keeper Scott Garlick. Panamanian forward Luis Tejada is supposed to boost the frontline, but Ellinger may choose to pair Adu with Jeff Cunningham, who scored a league-high 16 goals and notched 11 assists last season.

Trying to serve Adu out of the midfield will be a Jason Kreis. The league's all-time leading scorer with 108 strikes is set to patrol the central midfield alongside defensive Carey Talley.

Another veteran, Chris Klein, will patrol the right midfield. Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, who played all 32 games (26 starts) as rookie, was a bright spot last year, able to keep possession under pressure and hit clever passes.

Adu played wide in the midfield at D.C. United - not a position where he got many scoring chances. For player with a deadly shot, lightning acceleration and fine dribbling skills, Adu could thrive if he's used as a full-fledged attacker.

That wouldn't just be good for Real Salt Lake, but also for a league still woefully short on attacking stars.

REAL SALT LAKE PRESEASON ROSTER
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
1 Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
24 Chris Seitz (Univ. of Maryland)
36 Kyle Reynish (UC Santa Barbara)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

2 Danny Torres (Real Salt Lake)
5 Chris Lancos (Kaiserslautern II, Germany)
16 Willis Forko (Real Salt Lake)
23 Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake)
31 Jack Stewart (Real Salt Lake)
32 Jean-Martial Kipre (Angers, France)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
3 Carey Talley (Real Salt Lake)
4 Steven Curfman (Wake Forest Univ.)
6 Chris Brown (Real Salt Lake)
8 Joey Worthen (Real Salt Lake)
9 Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake)
10 Mehdi Ballouchy (Real Salt Lake)
11 Freddy Adu (D.C. United)
15 Kenny Cutler (Real Salt Lake)
17 Chris Klein (Real Salt Lake)
20 Nikolas Besagno (Real Salt Lake)
21 Christian Jimenez (Real Salt Lake)
33 Dustin Kirby (Ohio State Univ.)
77 Andy Williams (Real Salt Lake)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

12 Duke Hashimoto (Real Salt Lake)
13 Atiba Harris (Real Salt Lake)
18 Luis Tejada (Plaza Amador, Panama)
22 Jamie Watson (Real Salt Lake)
25 Kyle Brown (New England Revolution)
26 Jeff Rowland (no club -- injured)
90 Jeff Cunningham (Real Salt Lake)


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