Commentary

Backed by belief, perhaps Freddy can flourish

The tweaking of lineups and formations by Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger landed Freddy Adu a new position on opening day, a sort of pseudo-forward, left-sided attacker who can link up with forward partner Jeff Cunningham as well as midfield catalyst Mehdi Ballouchy.

Ellinger tried Adu in the attacking playmaker role during preseason, but soon terminated that experiment. With the move of Jason Kreis to holding midfielder and the agonizingly slow process by which Luis Tejada is getting into shape, RSL is a bit thin up front.

Starting wide left, Adu cut into the middle often enough to blast a first-time shot over the crossbar under pressure and launched another shot that was deflected and saved easily by FC Dallas keeper Shaka Hislop.

Adu did get down the flanks to win a few corners, but none of those were the result of amazing defensive plays. Adu simply drilled the ball into the nearest defender rather than bend the ball accurately to get it into the goalmouth. Chris Klein did just that from the right side to set up Cunningham for the first of his two goals in the 2-2 tie.

Real's second goal came after a corner won by Adu but not from one of his crosses. He traded passes with Ballouchy, whose cross found Kreis. Though Kreis's shot was blocked, the ball squirted loose for Cunningham to bang home goal No. 1.

Adu shared set-play duties with Kreis and Ballouchy, and spreading around that responsibility makes sense. Kreis has been nailing dead balls into the net since day one of MLS, Ballouchy puts a sweet swerve on the ball, and Adu can be utilized getting on the end of service as well as delivering it. Klein can also serve a good ball from the flank, especially from longer distances.

There were a few bad moments. When handed the ball in the attacking third on a turnover, Adu, with plenty of time and space, belted his attempted cross several yards over the heads of two teammates crashing the goalmouth. It was a poor decision poorly executed.

Time will be needed to adjust to new teammates and artificial turf. For his first competitive match with Real, Adu played adequately. How rapidly he improves and how much he contributes depends not so much on his innate abilities but how well he melds them with those of his teammates.

On one occasion, as he drifted inside, he pushed a ball into the path of overlapping left back Willis Forko. No scoring chance resulted, yet Adu played a smart ball given the situation.

The Real fans, clearly pro-Freddy, cheered his touches and he waved to them in appreciation. The D.C. coaching staff and much of the RFK faithful had lost faith. In a better environment, backed by belief, perhaps Adu can flourish.

Yes, he doesn't turn 18 until June, but he's banking a half-million dollars per year in salary and endorsements worth at least as much, and he's been talking a big game since he came into the league. This is the year he has to play big. He doesn't have to be the man, but he must be a man his teammates can count on to do his part.
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