My View: Potential and Product

SIGNING FREDDY ADU was a huge victory for MLS. Granted, some of the hyperbole coming out of those initial press conferences was alarming. ''The best young player in the world''? Please. There are at least 10 players his age, with his potential, in Brazil, Argentina, Africa and Europe. Some haven't been discovered yet, others are smartly being kept under wraps. And just because Freddy is advanced at this stage does not mean he will continue to leave the competition behind as he moves to higher levels of the game.

But I don't blame the league one bit for trumpeting the news. It had every reason to take advantage of the broad media attention and was wise even to shuttle the kid and his beaming smile around to Letterman, ESPN and CNN.

Surely, the hope in doing all that just prior to MLS Cup was to drive some viewers to the championship event. But against the NFL, the game still drew under a 0.9 overnight national rating - roughly the same blip as it has in previous years. The two didn't necessarily link, though. Freddy didn't play in the game, he merely conducted a choppy interview at halftime.

Sandwiched around the 14-year-old phenom's cameo, however, were two halves of downright thrilling soccer in which Landon Donovan, the last kid to wear the Future of American Soccer Label, loudly proclaimed: ''I'm still here.''

It was marvelous. Donovan deserved that mainstream buzz again, like after last year's World Cup. Adu is still potential; Donovan is product.

But the latest fad is kid sports prodigies and MLS still can't get its playoff games on national TV. So far more people know that a 14-year-old signed a contract than know that a 21-year-old led his team to three straight dramatic victories to win his second championship.

Bruce Arena spoke of the challenge that developing Adu's talent presents to D.C. United and the league. Another challenge sits on the desk of MLS marketers: How can the spotlight on Adu be shared by Donovan and the numerous other stars that have already captured a dedicated, but undersized fan base?

by Soccer America Senior Editor Will Kuhns

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