What Happened to America's Pele? The Rise and Fall of Freddy Adu

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

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The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was supposed to mark the international coming-out party for one of America's biggest soccer stars. 

Instead, Freddy Adu, 24, will be watching the World Cup from his home without any attachment to a club team.

When he was picked first in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by D.C. United, the then-14-year-old phenom was supposed to be the next big thing in the United States, and he was expected to lead the men's national team to greater heights. 

Fourteen-year-old Freddy Adu practices with D.C. United soccer team February 11, 2004 at Bradenton,  Florida. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/MLS)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Yanks will be influenced a ton by MLS in Brazil, but it is the likes of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi (both with Sporting Kansas City), who worked their way up the American soccer pyramid that will be wearing the red, white and blue instead of the heralded Adu. 

The journey of Adu is one that started off well with D.C. United, but once he left the nation's capital, his career burst into flames and never recovered. 

The Ghana-born midfielder played in a total of 30 matches during his rookie season, and then in 25 and 32 games in the next two seasons for one of the oldest franchises in MLS. 

WASHINGTON - APRIL 09:  Freddy Adu #9 of DC United takes a shot on goal past teammate Jaime Moreno #99 and Kelly Gray #6 of the Chicago Fire as DC United deteated the Fire 1-0 during MLS action at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on April 9, 2005 in Washington,
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During his three years in D.C., Adu was named to the MLS All-Star team on two occasions (2004, '06) and was responsible for 11 goals and 17 assists.

Then prior to the 2007 season, he was shipped off to Real Salt Lake in a trade that is now remembered for the inclusion of the league's best goalkeeper, Nick Rimando.

No one knew at the time, but Rimando, who was included in the Adu package, would turn into one of the most consistent keepers of his generation. Rimando also happens to be a lock to head to Brazil as the No. 3 keeper behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. 

Adu did not last long in Utah, as he was courted by Portuguese side Benfica, who brought the teenager over to Europe for the first of what was thought to be many terrific seasons overseas. 

During that era of American soccer, the bright lights of Europe were more attractive to most of the top players like Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley, Brian McBride and Howard. Spending an entire career thriving in MLS, which is now considered normal for Americans, would have been something that many elite players would have laughed at in 2007. 

Adu arrived on European soil with a ton of expectations laid on him from the press and fans to prove that a top young American could break through and be one of the best players at the club level in Europe. 

Those expectations would never be lived up to at Benfica, or at any of the other four European clubs Adu played for from 2007-2011 (French club AS Monaco in '08, Portuguese club Belenenses in '09, Greek side Aris in '10 and Turkish squad Caykur Rizespor in '11).  

ARMANDO FRANCA/Associated Press

After a bright start with Benfica, Adu spent the next three years out on loan, and never fit in at Monaco, Belenenses, Aris or Caykur Rizespor. 

During his time as a vagabond in Portugal, Greece and Turkey, Adu never made more than 13 appearances in a single season and left the continent with just seven goals to his name. 

While he was struggling in Europe, Adu played sparingly for the United States with his landmark performances coming in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament that many were shocked to see him in given his questionable club status. 

Despite all of his troubles in Europe, Adu was handed a lifeline by the Philadelphia Union in August of 2011. In his first season with the Union, he played a part in the club's two playoff games, as well as 11 regular-season clashes. 

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Adu was close to finding a home once again, something he had been looking for since his departure from MLS four years earlier, but another road block stopped the former prodigy from living up to his potential.

Adu's fate seemed to be linked to that of Philadelphia manager Peter Novak, who was let go in July 2012, a decision that marked the change in the team's philosophy and player selection.

As his time in Philadelphia dwindled down, Adu was turning into the biggest flop of his generation, and one of the worst ever in American soccer. 

The young midfielder with so much potential was supposed to fly the flag high for the United States in a time where soccer was not gaining much traction.

After the disappointing 2006 World Cup campaign, the national team was in need of an influx of youth, a movement that was supposed to be led by Adu. 

The 2010 World Cup would be used to give Adu and his fellow young teammates plenty of international experience ahead of the 2014 tournament that would be used as the breakout competition for the player, who was supposed to be the Kobe Bryant or LeBron James of his sport. Adu was left off the roster in 2010.

Instead of watching a 24-year-old Adu star alongside the veterans of the national team in Dempsey and Landon Donovan in the midfield, he will be entering the summer with no contract at the club level after he failed to impress the brass at Blackpool in February. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 08:  Freddy Adu #19  of the United States of America drives the ball past Javier Zanetti #8  of Argentina during their match at Giants Stadium on June 8, 2008 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Blackpool represented the last glimmer of hope for a player who was supposed to deliver highlight-reel performances every week, just like the legends of the sport that came before him like Pele, Diego Maradona and countless others. 

When the news of his unimpressive showing at training for the side in the second division of English football broke, not many people were left in shock.

Adu had been an afterthought in the American public for years, and because of that, no one really cared about his whereabouts, even if he was attempting a comeback in the lower leagues of Europe. 

At only 24, Adu is now regarded as a washed-up player that has nothing left in his legs, which is a shame given all the ability he showed as a bright teenager in the black and red of D.C. United. 

While there is still time for Adu to resurrect his career in a game full of redemption, he will never reach the heights he was supposed to when the American sporting public got behind him as a 14-year-old with a shining future ahead of him.

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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