New setting but Adu story is the same

The latest episode of the soap opera that is Freddy Adu presented itself this week, with details of a bus-ride conversation between Philadelphia coach John Hackworth and his young attacker emerging.

Adu, puzzled as to why he was yanked in the 70th minute and thus failed to finish out a 1-1 tie with D.C. United Sunday at RFK Stadium, thought he'd done enough to stay on the field. Hackworth disagreed. His substitution marked the 11th time this season in 16 starts he'd failed to play 90 minutes.

Bottom line: Adu needs to be more consistent.

Of course. Same as it ever was. Nothing new here. He's been hearing the same things from coaches in several countries for a few years now, but his overall average-ness persists.

The one-time boy wonder of American soccer, Adu is still grappling with the demands of professional play, an arena in which a slick stepover or two and the occasional nice cross isn't enough to merit ever-present status. His fans remember the rare magical moments, his growing legion of critics cite long periods of ineffectual play. He's still young, just 23, but in the year since he rejoined MLS he hasn't shown much progress.

Hackworth, who has worked with young players throughout his career and coached the USA at two Under-17 World Cups before signing on as a Union assistant, is holding Adu to a tough, but real standard: do what we tell you and produce, or we get someone else. A soccer player can't always be evaluated by statistics, and so with three goals and one assist in 17 games Adu is suspended in that nether region of not bad but hardly impressive, which isn't where he was supposed to be eight years after signing his first pro contract.

The fact is, for a kid in his teens playing pro ball against men, Adu did well. United rode the momentum while trying to downplay expectations, but when "Good Morning America" asks for an appearance and has to take a number, the world gets real crazy. If he could have found his feet in Europe after signing with Benfica in 2007 he might still be overseas, knocking down a huge salary and flying across the Atlantic to play regularly with the U.S. national team. Instead, after a series of loans that ended in Turkish obscurity with Rizespor (that's a soccer club, not a disco), he came home to great fanfare a year ago.

Since then, he's not been much to get excited about. Talking to players, coaches and agents, the standard line of "he's still a young player" got a lot of play then and now. One agent questioned why the league would be so eager to get him back and pay a big salary ($400,000 this season) for a player who had run out of overseas alternatives: "Why is he being rewarded so handsomely for failing overseas?"

There's certainly been some jealousy and resentment swirling around Adu within MLS. The astounding salary -- by league standards -- of his deal at age 14 and the blizzard of interviews, TV features, and hyper-coverage accompanying the early days of his career rubbed some people raw. There has been some payoff: He played every game in his rookie season with D.C. United as he helped it win its fourth MLS Cup, and bumped up crowds around the league (though more than a few fans came away wondering what all the fuss was about.)  He's played some excellent games for club and country, most notably at the 2008 Olympic Games, but he also turned in clunkers wearing the USA jersey and as far as MLS is concerned, he didn't play in the All-Star Game staged in his home stadium last month for good reason.

Commissioner Don Garber could have used a selection on Adu, but chose instead Union teammate Carlos Valdes. That's reason enough to believe that as far as the league office is concerned, the Adu Era is long gone.

He still has a few years to go before reaching those late 20s during which most players hit their peak. And one could argue that Adu has indeed been consistent, but in a negative sense: consistently not good enough to merit regular starts for one of the league's weaker teams. Yet so powerful is his past allure that some fans insist he's just the element Jurgen Klinsmann needs to spice up the national team, and one or two decent games spread over a month or six weeks is ample proof. No, it isn't.

On Saturday Philly plays at Real Salt Lake, where Adu closed out the first phase of his MLS career before heading off to Europe, five long years ago. It would seem an ideal setting for a definitive performance, a pressure game against one of the league's top teams.

The central theme of this saga recurs time and time again: He hears the harsh reality and vows to do whatever it takes. The song remains the same.

Though it wasn't made public, Hackworth probably responded along these lines: Don't tell us, Freddy. Show us.

11 comments about "New setting but Adu story is the same".
  1. Ed Farnsworth, August 24, 2012 at 7:34 a.m.

    Great commentary. By the way, Freddy Adu and the Union play RSL at home on Friday, not Saturday at RSL. The game is on NBC Sports Network at 7:30pm.

  2. Taylor Baldwin, August 24, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.

    It's a good story, but isn't Freddy Adu just a product of too much hype from being thrown into a still developing pro-league in America that was craving stars and stories? Aren't the same peopel who are tearing him down the sames ones who built him up 8 years ago?He was a 14 year old boy and told he was the next Pele. Now we expect him to mature without ever having given him guidance. Personally, I feel sorry for what could have been had he been properly nurtured, but that's American sports mentality for you, probably sports mentality around the world really.

  3. F. Kirk Malloy, August 24, 2012 at 9:16 a.m.

    Are you talking about the same Freddy Adu whose moment of brilliance - an extremely rare event from US-bred soccer players - sprung Landon Donovan up the right flank so he could cross to Dempsey for the winner against Panama in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup? And it wasn't just the 40-yard ball bent with the outside of his foot, perfectly weighted to a springing LD. Rather, it was the instinctual one-two that released Freddie so he could receive and execute the pass that made it all the more special. I don't get to see Freddie much, but his most recent appearances for Klinsman have demonstrated the highest quality and moments of real brilliance that are needed to compete at the highest level. And his work rate was also exceptional. Typically physical, hard-working US system-bred players, who may do just what the coach tells them, just can't cut it internationally. In fact, the typical US coaches of MLS and college variety should step back and let the players play on game day. We're not going to games to watch the coaches. We - the US fans and system - need to encourage Freddie and those like him, with magic and brilliance, not crititicize them for "not doing what the coaches say". Lame (and unbalanced) article.

  4. Kevin Sims, August 24, 2012 at 10:03 a.m.

    Freddy is not to blame for having fame and fortune heaped upon him at age 14. I have not seen Freddy regularly, but lean toward agreement with Malloy ... he can provide special moments that can turn a match ... maybe there is value in that alone.

  5. beautiful game, August 24, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.

    The Adu hype was merited; when he's on his game, he makes things happen. He has a solid soccer IQ and technical skills, but where is the passion to excel? Unfortunately that has been his achilles, CONSISTENCY. Perhaps his personal game preparation methodology is wrong...or perhaps he needs a mentor to guide him. Whatever it is, he needs to figure it out sooner then later.

  6. Vic Flegel, August 24, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.

    I don't remember Freddy ever playing for Klinsmann,but I would like to see it.

  7. Gus Keri, August 24, 2012 at 1:06 p.m.

    8 different clubs and 8 years later and we are still talking about "proper guidance and mentoring." Ladies and gentelmen, This is what Freddy Adu is all about. Take it or leave it.

  8. David Sirias, August 24, 2012 at 3:22 p.m.

    We don't hear anything about Freddy dogging it in practice anymore. It's all on-field isssues now. Freddy is s very skilled but limited player. In the MLS and in most every league on earth he has one position, central attacking mid, with limited defensive responsibility. In either a 4312, 4132 or a 442 tight diamond. But NO coach has ever played him there for any extended period of time with two forwards to work with. And it's not because he can be marked out of a game by the opposing #6 each and every time. It's sad this has happened, and is kind of a black mark on the league, if even casual fans have figured this out but not the coaches. C'mon this is MLS not EPL or La Liga. There is a place for Freddy with the right coach and system.

  9. Kerceus Andre, August 24, 2012 at 4:29 p.m.

    I'm amazed how jealousy can stop the growth of U.S. soccer. Many of the coaches in America including the ones they import to coach here are a bunch of rejects who destroy talents like Adu. They do not understand the psychological aspect of the game so they spew their venom's on young proteges like Adu.

    U.S. soccer soccer needs a new regime that truly understands the art of playing this most beautiful game.

  10. Allan Lindh, August 24, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.

    Somebody should have mentioned that he's slow. And that's sure as hell not his fault. But it's true I'm afraid, and there's nothing he can do about that. Whether his ball skills and soccer IQ can continue to develop enough to overcome the lack of speed -- hard to say. Should go play for Dom Kinnear in Houston, sure did work for Stuart Holden, who if anything is even slower. As was Dom for that matter, near as I can remember -- but he sure could play.

  11. Doug Olson, August 25, 2012 at 2:12 a.m.

    Kinda tough for him to make his mark when he doesn't enter the game until the 80th minute. If he hasn't given his coach enough reason to give him more minutes - after 8 years as a pro - then the soccer media should quit asking us fans. Over-hype is as much your fault as ours - shut up, already.

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