It can be easy to forget that Freddy Adu is still just 22 years old. The American soccer prodigy broke through to professional soccer at 14 with D.C. United and then fluttered around Major League Soccer before re-emerging as the supreme American talent at the Under-20 World Cup in 2007.
After the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, Adu transferred from Real Salt Lake to Portuguese giants Benfica. And that's where his career stalled for a bit.
Now, after four separate loan spells, Adu returned to MLS to play for the Philadelphia Union last season. Adu's return was a big deal for MLS and the Union, the league got one of its premier faces and names back and the Union got a supremely talented player to lead its midfield.
But now he's being asked to be something he hasn't been for all those years as a prodigy: a leader.
Adu is the only player returning from the 2008 Olympics for the 2012 Olympics. It's no surprise coach Caleb Porter didn't select anyone else from the 2008 side as much of that team has moved on and is no longer eligible.
But it's still scary to think that Adu is the most capped and most experienced player on the roster, because Adu isn't the perfect role model of a player. It's not his attitude or skill or off-the-field antics that are the problem. It's the way he carries himself on the field.
That could spell trouble for Porter as he tries to build an attacking, free-flowing side like the ones he's cultivated at Akron over the past few years.
There is no doubting Adu can play at this stage, he has done it before. There is no doubting he fits into Porter's style of play. The question is can he lead this side?
Can he put the team on his back and show everyone how they're supposed to play? Can he show the more inexperienced players (read: everyone on the team) how to compete on the top level and how to play both ways?
Those are big questions for a 22-year-old player, but there ones we shouldn't be asking of Adu in the first place. This is a player who should have made giant leaps and been playing in Europe regularly by now. He's not.
He's home in MLS playing for a coach who understands him. That's kind of scary when thinking he will be the focal point of this Olympic qualifying team's midfield and attack.
Adu needs to be the leader. He needs to show the rest of this team what it means to be a U.S. International. He needs to step up.
It's a good sign that he's come out and embraced the role already. Maybe this is the point where he matures and becomes the player scouts thought he would be.
“I’ve always been one of the youngest guys on the team. But now I’m one of the older guys, one of the more experienced guys, and I have to be more of a leader. The guys are looking up to me, asking me questions and looking at me to step up," Adu told U.S. Soccer.
Adu has a lot of pressure on him with this side. The U.S. is expected to get out of its group with El Salvador, Cuba and Canada and then advance to the CONCACAF finals, where both teams make it to the Olympics no matter the who wins the tournament.
Adu will need to lead Porter's team on the field; there isn't another player with the experience and the skill set Adu has on the roster.
To play Porter's preferred 4-3-3, Adu will need to work hard, either in the middle of the field or on the wings, to track runners and press defenders when the U.S. doesn't have the ball.
That is something he isn't prone to doing: to set the tempo and show the rest of the team what's expected. This is Adu's chance to shine on the world stage again and prove he belongs with the best of American talents.
It will be interesting to see how he fares and where he goes from here.