When looking back at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, one of the most invigorating sub-plots will undoubtedly be the valiant efforts of Team USA.
The heroics of Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man squad embodied everything great about the beautiful game and saw the Stars and Stripes win over the hearts of millions across the globe. In fact, their performances were so inspired that the squad even received personal praise from a certain POTUS.
Those 23 men ensured that soccer finally emerged as a serious sport in the States and have now provided a platform for the sport to continue growing over the coming years. It now seems inevitable that the Yanks will eventually become a serious contender for soccer’s ultimate prize and the current crop of players will be remembered as pioneers who planted the seeds for a country to fall in love with the game.
In fact, the spirited displays of Team USA sparked a worldwide love-affair before their elimination to Belgium in the round of 16 and the likes of Tim Howard, Jermain Jones and Kyle Beckerman have become household names across the footballing world. However, there is a forgotten man who was once tipped to be this generation’s Pele: Freddy Adu.
Adu's name is now met with a silence as we mourn about what could have been. However, the news, per Charlie Scott of the Daily Mail, that the former teen prodigy has been handed a trial by Eredivisie side AZ offers one last throw of the dice to the icon that never was.
There's a long road ahead as the attacking midfielder looks to rebuild a career which has been on standby for over a year, but this could signal the start of a new beginning for one of yesteryear's most talked about American sports stars.
There once was a time when the utterance of Adu’s name would have fans salivating at the thought of his future stardom. At the tender age of just 14, the Ghana-born midfielder became a worldwide celebrity when he was, as per Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey, the first picked player of the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
A huge future was predicted for the teenage sensation and D.C United was to be the first stepping block en route to becoming the messiah of a generation.
The early signs were promising too. In his rookie season Adu helped United to the MLS Cup, breaking the records, via USASoccer.com, for both youngest player and scorer along the way, and was named an MLS All-Star team twice in his first three seasons as a pro. He additionally dominated the youth international scene, scoring hat-tricks in the both the U17 and U20 World Cups.
By 2006, the teen star had already broken into Team USA’s senior squad. His debut appearance against Canada had seen him become America’s youngest ever capped player and a future as the nation’s saviour seemed virtually guaranteed.
After three years in the capital, Adu swapped D.C for Real Salt Lake where he spent another successful, if unspectacular, campaign in the MLS. In the summer of 2007, the teenager took the next step of his presumed journey to the top by making the switch to European football.
His $2 million transfer to Portuguese giants Benfica, per Jack Bell of the New York Times, would surely offer America’s brightest young talent the chance to prove himself as the country’s greatest ever sporting export.
Unfortunately, though, it has been nothing but a downward spiral since. For a long list of reasons, Adu’s face never really suited Benfica and his four-year spell at the Portuguese club was largely disrupted by a series of loan spells across Europe.
The American hot-shot spent ill-fated interludes at Monaco, Belenenses, Aris and Cayuk Rizespor before his parent club finally lost patience and cut their losses on one of the game’s biggest disappointments.
Unfulfilled potential had become a theme of the youngster’s career and by 2011 he’d also seen his team in the national setup come to an abrupt end —he had amassed just three goals in 17 appearances for Team USA, a far cry from the dizzying heights once predicted.
Adu returned to the MLS with the Philadelphia Union but could never replicate the glory of his early promise. An equally uninspired two-year spell with Brazilian side Bahia, in which he made just two appearances, ended with the Brazilians terminating the midfielder’s contract, per NBC Sports’ Kyle Bonn, in November 2013.
At the age of 24, Adu should have been approaching the peak of his powers and preparing to drag his country to the game’s ultimate prize in 2014.
Instead, as Team USA were still celebrating the double triumph of World Cup qualification and a Gold Cup trophy, Adu found himself stranded on the scrap heap. As Team USA were winning the hearts of millions in Brazil, the forgotten teen superstar was still trying to locate a club willing to take a gamble.
After failing to convince either English side Blackpool, or Norweigan side Stabaek, Adu now finds himself training with Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and the early indications, via MLSsoccer.com, are that the Eredivisie side may be ready to offer the now 25-year-old one final shot at cracking the European game.
If AZ are to become Adu’s 10th senior club in a decade then he simply must use this lifeline to resurrect his football career. It has been well over a year since the former teen star made his fourth and final appearance for Bahia and he owes a huge debt to compatriot Earnie Stewart.
Stewart, the director of football at Alkmaar, was part of the D.C. United roster when they made that earth-shattering first draft pick 10 years ago. However, the former United States international insists that this potential salvation is not a gesture of compassion towards his ex-teammate.
Adu will be given at least a week to prove his worth to new manager Marco van Basten but must seize this opportunity with both hands if he is ever to carve out a successful career in the European game.
It has been over a decade since the American infamously burst onto the scene and his fall from grace remains one of football’s most complicated riddles. We’ve seen plenty of potential stars fade into obscurity over the years but the story of Adu has a truly remarkable narrative.
Adu will never reach the astronomical heights that were predicted during the infancy of his career. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of time for the forgotten man to rebuild his reputation and ensure that he is remembered for more than being one of the sport’s unrealised potentials.
AZ has the potential to be the turning point in Adu’s rollercoaster career and the next week may be the most important of his life.
Klinsmann has already shown that the Team USA door will always remain open to any player who performs on a regular basis. If Adu shows the same grit and determination as the national team did in Brazil, we may one day see the former teen prodigy back in the famous Red and White.
Can Freddy Adu reignite his career in Holland? Post your thoughts below.
Playing stats courtesy of Soccerway.