Note: I rarely get a chance (read: excuse) to talk about the National team on this blog, or players that aren't Rapids or members of Rapids opponents. With the biggest game for the USMNT since that Ghana game in the World Cup coming up, I figured this was a good excuse. I also apologize for my over-saturation of USMNT material lately, the Rapids just haven't provided anything to talk about as awesome as this Gold Cup run! I know this is a bit long, but hear me out. :) On to the article, now...
World-wide, and even to many people in the United States where he first cut his stuff, Freddy Adu is a joke. And he's not even a funny joke, more of an annoying knock knock joke that just gives you a headache because you've heard it so many damn times. You're probably sick of that joke, by god! (Orange you glad I didn't say Banana?!) When you bring him up in casual conversation, the topic usually turns into jokes of him being a failure and losing whatever that special something was that he may have once had. If you talk about his skills and his current career, you get berated with zingers like 'Wait a minute, I'll go and get my time machine so we can go back to when he was 16 and have this conversation.'
Honestly, can you blame people for saying that? Freddy Adu was supposed to be our national treasure. He was the savior of United States soccer, the kid out of middle school who was already beating guys twice his age in pick up games. Freddy was MLS's David Beckham before David Beckham was MLS's David Beckham. Considering all that, Adu has been an unfortunate flop in his career so far. A decent MLS career was cut short when he was sent off to Europe and he has been flipping around loan to loan ever since as teams realized that he wasn't all that he was hyped to be. Ending up most recently in the Turkish Second League of all places didn't help his PR either. From the top of the US's media circuit, hearts and soccer loving minds in 2004 to Çaykur Rizespor - a name most of us probably can't even pronounce - in 2011.
That's seven years of a career down the drain. This isn't hockey where careers can end several times over in seven years, but that's still a heck of a long time especially in a footballing world that can be simply cruel to players who don't pan out. Career over, right?
Hold on, now. One thing to remember is that Adu is somehow only 22 years old right now at this point of his supposedly flop of a career. It seems like forever since the first time that his face was plastered on everything MLS had to offer us because, well, in sports years it kind of has been forever. Back in 2004 DC United was still winning MLS Cups, the Houston Astros were a World Series caliber team, Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace were both EPL clubs... need I continue? For an average American athlete getting hype like Adu got, it probably would have started right out of high school and going into college. In that case, said athlete would probably be in his late 20's right now and at the later stages of his career beyond hope or repair, but Freddy is a special case.
How is he a special case? Well let's go back a bit.
I've always been a fan of Freddy Adu. When he started in the league way back at the age of 14, I was also 14 years old and just starting to get really 'into' the game of football. I'd been going to Colorado Rapids games since the early Mile High Stadium days but really began to notice the sport and even follow it closely around then. Adu's ability quickly drew me in; not enough to turn me into a United fan obviously, but enough to watch some more MLS to follow this cool kid that was my age. I was amazed at some of the things he was pulling off.
Unfortunately, the media and people like myself putting him on that incredible pedestal had an adverse effect on the poor kid, as we probably all should have seen coming. I'm pretty sure that none of us had the absolute hype and media power that Adu held as a teenager, but as we were all teenagers once I think we can all see what happened to the guy. Freddy's attitude seemed to be that his talents were going to be enough to get him by in life, working for anything be damned. And it worked for a while, he stuck with championship-caliber side DC United for a nice chunk of time as a starter before getting traded to Real Salt Lake - that was the trade that got them Nick Rimando, remember that one?! - and shortly afterwards, to Benfica. Unfortunately, he never stuck with the Portugese side despite high hopes and has been on loan after loan since joining them in 2007.
In a completely related situation, the teenage Adu after 'graduating' the lower levels of the USA's youth system to get to the national team only managed to earn 15 caps for himself up until 2008. That included the pathetic World Cup showing in 2006 as well as a bunch of games in 2008. In fact, his last cap was a game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park against Guatemala, which he scored a goal in, and was promptly never heard from again. The years that followed left Freddy pretty much forgotten. No call up to the World Cup in 2010, no sign of him at the Confederations Cup either the year before. Ages 20 and 21 passed Freddy by and he was finally able to drink. Drinking of course was what USMNT fans had been doing while remembering him for years at that point.
Fast forward to today. Adu was called a 'shock' addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup roster for this season after such a long layover, and he unsurprisingly started the tournament on the roster but not on the starting XI or bench. You'll note though that Bob Bradley made several notes as the tourney slogged along that Adu - out of character from the Adu that we all knew and loved before - was working incredibly hard and giving his all in every single practice, seemingly begging for another chance to get put onto the starting XI or bench of the team that so long ago he seemed destined to star on.
Wednesday's game against Panama featured Adu as a second half substitute for his first cap in ages. The old Adu might have taken the opportunity to do pretty much nothing but lounge around the field, keep the ball moving minimally or even worse be a complete ball-hog while just making runs forward and finish the game with nothing particularly bad on his record but nothing to write home about either. This wasn't the old Adu though. This game Adu defined just what Bob Bradley meant when he said Adu was working hard.
Honestly, I think we've all forgotten about Freddy Adu as a player. The jokes and snide cracks have overtaken the memories we had. It was easy to forget how fast the guy is. It was easy to forget the footwork he's got going for him and the sometimes fearless play with the ball that leads him running toward and through instead of away from defenders. We saw all of that against Panama on Wednesday. His long launched pass to Landon Donovan was both brilliant and perfectly placed to the Captain. Donovan may have gotten the assist but that was all Adu. If Michael Bradley knew how to shoot, it's very possible he could have had another assist later. Pretty much as good a debut as Adu could have had in his return to National Team glory.
So is Adu back? Not yet, not in the slightest. He's been playing in below-average leagues for years, and we're talking worse than MLS by a long shot here. He hasn't seen national team action in a major tournament since Bruce Arena was still the head coach. He's not ready for prime-time yet, and his next cap with the team is certain to be less impressive than the first one, if not only because they won't be playing a lower-tier team like Panama next time! Adu needs to be slowly built back up to national team level, like rehabilitating a broken bone.
I think he needs a trip back to MLS. I started this article by saying that in the wide world of football the name of Freddy Adu is considered to be a joke, and it's unfortunately true. The best he could do in 2011 was a second division Turkish team, for crying out loud. Charlie Davies has come to Major League Soccer in rehabilitation from that terrible car wreck that almost ended his career and has excelled. Hell, Davies should probably have been on the Gold Cup roster with the way that he was playing. A similar trip for Adu might do him good. After watching him again I think we can all agree that there's a bunch of teams he would easily start for in Major League Soccer in his attacking midfielder/forward position tree.
MLS isn't the only option of course. A trip to the likely accessible Turkish first division or even a place like the English Championship that is about on par with MLS would be a great stepping stone for the midfielder. He just needs a league that will fit his current still growing skill-set; that's right, with his age it's still reasonable to think that he's got room to get better. MLS is a special place for Freddy Adu though; it's the place where he began to learn his craft.
The Allocation order wouldn't allow Adu to go back to DC barring a miracle - they already used that on Charlie Davies - and he certainly won't go to Salt Lake, but he got a lot of buzz when he came onto the field in Houston. The American public still knows him and judging by the reactions I saw after that brilliant pass to Donovan, the American public still, if only secretly, wants to like the guy. If Adu comes to MLS, then he will be home in a place where he'll be judged a lot less harshly as he grows than he would be in Spain, Portugal or England. You can't underestimate what confidence can do for a player. Just look at Davies' current form in DC.
The idea of course is to get him back into form as a national team starter. He won't be starting against Mexico during the final on Saturday - or at least, it would probably be foolish to think he should - but the long, slow road to getting Freddy Adu back on track in his career is finally starting to get off the dirt road and onto the highway. MLS is a logical stepping stone in that equation because as his club football improves and as his confidence improves with it, as will his national team form. And his talents - if utilized correctly - could be an amazing addition to our goal-starved national squad in coming years up to World Cup 2014.
I trash Bob Bradley quite a bit, but for once I have to give him props on something. The inclusion of Freddy Adu on the Gold Cup squad was puzzling at the time it was announced, but it's obvious that Bob knew something we didn't; Freddy has matured and is back in the business of being the best footballer he can be. That's something we may not have been able to say since 2004 or 2005. It really is the perfect time to start trying to get the former prodigy Freddy Adu back into the fray of United States football. And what a story it would be if the attempts were a success. (At the very least, it would be one more excuse to never allow Robbie Rogers near the starting XI for the national team ever again. Or Wondo, for that matter.)
Would Adu's emergence be seven years late? Yeah. But as a wise man once said, "Better late than never." Considering that a year ago it looked like never was a distinct possibility, I'm thrilled to say that late has finally started to materialize. At a time filled with controversy, lackluster development and failure for the USMNT, there has never been a better time for good news like the possible re-emergence of Freddy Adu to come about. And for an unabashed Freddy Adu fan like myself, I couldn't be more excited at the prospect.