Freddy Adu again made history on April 3, 2004 when he was a second-half substitute in a match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Adu made his first MLS appearance at 14 years old, making him the youngest player to ever appear in a professional game in the United States since 1887.
At the time of his emergence on the national stage, some sports writers were giving Adu the title of the next Pele, and even going as far as saying he would be to the MLS what Michael Jordan was to the NBA. It looked as if Adu had the weight of the world on his shoulders and he never played to full potential.
Adu’s MLS career can best be characterized as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the first few seasons with DC United, he bounced from the bench to the starting rotation. He was never the dependable player that the DC United brass expected him to be (he was only 14 years old...what did they expect?).
In 2006, DC United realized their "Adu Experience" wasn't going the right direction and they traded the promising forward to Real Salt Lake and once again, Adu fell out of favor with the team and had to build from scratch. By the 2007 MLS season, Adu was a starter for Real Salt Lake, but struggled as he only managed to score one goal in 11 MLS matches.
Although Adu was struggling in the club level, his international play was at an all-time high. In the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Adu scored three goals and served as captain of a team that beat Brazil and made it to the quarterfinals.
After such a terrific performance at the U-20 World Cup, Portuguese team Benfica purchased Adu for $2 million from Real Salt Lake and since then, his playing career began to derail.
In July 2008, Adu joined French club AS Monaco on a season-long loan; then on August 31, 2009, it was announced that Adu would spend the 2009-10 season on loan at Belenenses. After that, in 2010, Adu signed an 18-month deal with Greek team Aris.
By this time, the world had completely forgotten about the one-time phenom Freddy Adu who would be the savior of MLS and United States Soccer.
Adu's career took the final plunge when it was announced he would be joining Turkish Second Division team Çaykur Rizespor.
But, just when Adu probably thought his career was never going to take a turn for the better, just when he thought no one was watching, USMNT head coach Bob Bradley took a chance on the 22-year-old once touted as the Next Big Thing in American soccer.
"When you see a player go to the Second Division in Turkey to keep his career going, that tells you something," said Bradley following the United States' 1-0 victory over Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals last Wednesday.
Adu got his redemption when Bradley invited him to join the 2011 USMNT in the Gold Cup. At first, it wasn't easy. Bradley didn't trust Adu; he wasn't playing well at camp and it showed when Adu didn't step foot on the pitch during the games.
But then it happened.
Adu was a surprise substitute in the semifinal against Panama, coming on in the second half of a scoreless draw for Juan Agudelo. Adu looked as crisp as he has ever been and it was Adu who set up Landon Donovan with a beautiful pass. And when Donovan delivered the on-target pass to Clint Dempsey, who put the ball in the back of the goal, the US had the vital goal it needed to go on to Saturday's Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl.
After the game, Adu talked to the media about the importance of being ready.
"You've always got to be prepared and ready," said Adu. "Some days you get a chance to go in the game, and some days you don't. But when you do get a chance to go in the game, this is your chance, you have to make it count, for you personally, and for the team, because this is where you want to be, representing your country. Today, just the look on everybody's face after the game was just unbelievable."
It's almost impossible to think that as recently as six months ago, Adu's career seemed to be in a free fall. And now, even after the devastating 4-2 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final, Freddy Adu was the lone bright spot in a game in which many USMNT supporters, like myself, would like to forget. Adu showed up big in the Gold Cup final (it was Adu who set up Michael Bradley for the first US goal).
Some forget Adu is only 22 years old and still has a whole career ahead of him. If Adu really wanted to become the player he once was envisioned to be, I would come back and play for an MLS team and become the face of United States soccer just like Landon Donovan did before him. Playing in the US will give Adu the confidence he needs to be a top-tier talent and one of the United States' biggest pieces during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
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