Despite claims that the trade that sent Freddy Adu to Real Salt Lake had only been formulating for a couple of weeks at most, the die was cast long before then.
During his brief tenure as president and general manager of the Team Formerly Known as the MetroStars, Alexi Lalas hinted perhaps a change in location would soothe Adu's frustrations about playing time, position, training sessions, etc. Adu, too, dropped names and clues, such as his former pop-star girlfriend Jojo, who lives and records mainly in New York. Last year, during the playoffs, Adu complained about a lack of playing time and was suspended for one game.
Freddy has been bound of town for more than a year, and only a cynic would believe that D.C. United dispatched him to the western hinterlands, to play on artificial turf in a market far, far away from the Big Apple he coveted, to punish him. The right deal surfaced and D.C. pulled the trigger.
It's a lesson often given to young people: You got what you wanted, in this case a trade. Now, what you gonna do with it?
Rather than swanning amid the bright lights and skyscrapers, he'll cavort under a big sky and snow-capped mountains. Rather than dreaming of European glory and a mega-blockbuster move next summer, he can get down to work. He's under contract to MLS until 2009 and can showcase himself again to foreign clubs with a strong showing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada this summer.
For a lot of reasons, Salt Lake City is where Freddy should be, whether he believes it or not. The next year will dictate where his career goes in the next decade.
His former under-17 coach John Ellinger will give him a chance to play in the middle, where he can either support the forwards or play one of those spots himself. D.C. decided to trade him even though Jaime Moreno is slowing down and Alecko Eskandarian (who might wind up being the one traded to the Red Bullsl) struggled through injuries and scoring droughts last season.
(Personal view: At this point in Adu's development, midfield is too complicated. He's not Amado Guevara or Dwayne De Rosario, or even Andy Williams or Justin Mapp, in talent, strength, experience, or vision. Play him as a second forward, with instructions to beat defenders, open up spaces, make runs, find teammates, score goals.)
Only Adu can prove that his modest production while playing out wide is a function of the position, or simply the limits of his abilities.
Operator-investor Dave Checketts needs a huge marketing blast to push through his vision of a soccer stadium in Sandy and keep attendances strong, and if you want a name that resonates in the soccer suburbs of America, who ya gonna call?
Adu will be idolized and adored in Utah, not just in his first game, but
at every match, every appearance, every training session. He's a star by name more than for game, but that won't matter to Real fans.
However, the local press has been harshly critical of Checketts' power moves in closing a stadium deal, and during the disastrous expansion season Ellinger and his players were routinely ripped, so sooner rather than later Adu will need to skin a few defenders and create some goals. Smiles and autographs won't do it indefinitely. He'll also be burdened with the captaincy of the U.S. under-20 team, so the year in which he turns 18 will truly be his passage to adulthood.
RSL's association with Real Madrid should provide him fantastic opportunities to train and perhaps go on loan. Not coincidentally, remember, upon his return from training at Manchester United he mentioned perhaps Real Madrid was more conducive to his style.
D.C. United coach Peter Nowak had someplace less glamorous in mind, perhaps the Netherlands, where several clubs are renowned for developing talented players and selling them on to big clubs.
For D.C. United, unloading Freddy netted a major player allocation. Team executives were in Argentina again last month visiting clubs and looking at players. D.C. also saves about $230,000 in salary-cap money, since the swap of keepers exchanged Jay Nolly ($30,000) for Nick Rimando ($110,000), and Adu counted for $150,000 against the cap. This is, after all, a business.
RSL will get the allocation back if Adu goes to Europe, yet Kansas City made much the same gamble last year when it traded for Eddie Johnson, and it's still waiting to cash in. However, there's a possibility that Jason Kreis will retire, and MLS could grant RSL an allocation to replace him. The terms of the deal also provide for D.C. to receive some allocation money if Adu leaves MLS for Europe.
Through its business and marketing liaisons with foreign teams, MLS can open some doors for Adu, but as his two-week token appearance at Manchester United showed, a real deal - no pun intended - is something else.