At the mere age of 14, Freddy Adu had the whole footballing world licking their lips at the thought of having a true American footballing prospect.
Fresh-faced Adu had just signed a huge sponsorship deal with sports giants Nike and was allocated as the first pick in the 2004 MLS Superdraft. Having been picked up by 2004 Eastern Conference champs DC United, Adu had American soccer fans and pundits eating off the palm of his small hands.
Even for American sport, a 14-year-old professional athlete is quite something.
Fast forward seven years, and after a serious lack of playing time in Europe, Adu has begrudgingly returned back to the MLS.
It is argued that Adu is the perfect example of a young man given too much too young. The Ghanaian-born American proved difficult to manage under DC United’s fiery manager at the time, Peter Nowak. Ironically, it is Nowak’s Philadelphia Union side Adu has just joined on a free transfer.
The fame got to his head. He dated US singer JoJo and constantly tried courting the interest of European clubs via the media. After complaining about playing time in the States, a 16-year-old Freddy Adu was once given a trial at England giants Manchester United, though no move came to fruition as he had hoped.
Adu moved to the USA at the age of eight and became an American citizen in 2003. His mother won the Green Card Lottery in his native Ghana, which randomly selected families across the world to give them the necessary visas to come and live in the USA legally. With the promise of the American dream in their minds, Adu’s family moved to Rockville, Maryland.
To say Adu had been left out in the cold in Europe would be somewhat of an understatement. Having made just 11 appearances for Benfica in four years, Adu was sent out on loan to far-flung clubs in Europe in a bid to help him regain his form.
AS Monaco, Belenenses, Aris and Turkish second division side Caykur Rizespor. Not one of these European misfits saw the talent the US media had prophesied when Adu was a young teenager.
Adu made history once again on April 3, 2004. In a match for DC United against Californians San Jose Earthquakes, Adu made his first appearance as a second-half substitute. At 14, Adu was the youngest ever player to feature in a professional football match in the States since 1887.
Two weeks later, the starlet became the youngest ever scorer in US professional soccer. He scored a consolation goal in DC United’s 3-2 loss to rivals New York Metrostars, who are now known as the New York Red Bulls.
Now, he is back in his former stomping ground in MLS’ Eastern Conference, trying to help Philadelphia Union reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
And under the stewardship of former manager Nowak—the two had since patched up their differences following their disputes early on in Adu’s career—there is an aura of promise surrounding Adu and his fledgling side, who were formed for the 2010 MLS season.
Adu netted his first goal for the Pennsylvania team in last week’s classic encounter with New England Revolution. The Boston-based outfit were leading Union 4-1 until Adu’s coolly-slotted finish helped his side earn a gutsy 4-4 draw between the traditional eastern sporting rivals.
One reason behind Adu’s move back to the States is to get reinstated within the US national team reckoning. Left in the international footballing abyss for some time, Adu finally got a taste of international football once again during the summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Adu was a shock selection for the stars and stripes’ Gold Cup squad. However, throughout the tournament, Adu did not get a look in. Then, he got his chance. With the USA struggling in the Gold Cup semifinal against minnows Panama, Adu was given his chance to break the 0-0 stalemate as a substitute in the 66th minute.
Coming on the pitch for a young star in his own right, New York Red Bull’s Juan Agudelo, Adu had 24 minutes to show the world that he was back. A mere 10 minutes later, the midfielder produced an exquisite defense-splitting pass that released USA hero Landon Donovan to create the easy assist for Clint Dempsey, who slid the ball home. The USA then held out for a 1-0 win that helped them progress to their fourth Gold Cup final in a row.
Bob Bradley is a notoriously hard man to impress. But Adu’s short performance did enough to warrant a start in the USA’s 4-2 defeat to Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
With Jurgen Klinsmann now at the helm of the USA national team, Adu will be hoping to impress the German. Klinsmann is credited for helping blood a group of young inexperienced German players into the national team for the 2006 World Cup they hosted. Now, Germany has one of the most fearsome national teams in all of world football.
Despite being around for so long, Adu is still only 22. He has serious experience beyond his years and now possesses the hunger to prove that his career is not one of hype and broken promises.
Let the Freddy Adu story be an example to young American footballers, telling of the dangers of moving to European football too soon. With the standard of soccer in the MLS significantly rising each year, there is really no need to rush nowadays. While Americans have found success in Europe, most don’t. Even Landon Donovan was left in the wilderness in his days as a youngster at Bayer Leverkusen.
Young MLS talent such as Agudelo, Brek Shea and Teal Bunbury need to take heed in the story of a 14-year-old who let his fame and talent get to his head far too early on in his career. As the old adage says, the grass is not always greener on the other side.