In a different world, we might have seen Freddy Adu play four games for the USMNT at this year’s World Cup. In an even more different world, we might have seen him play three games for Ghana. Actually, if his promising potential had come to fruition, we might have seen either team go a lot further than they did in this year’s tournament. Instead, the 25-year old Ghanaian-born American citizen wasn’t at the World Cup at all. So what happened to him?
We all remember when Freddy burst onto the American fútbol scene. He was just 14 years old when D.C. United–after Adu’s family struck a deal with the league and the Dallas Burn, who owned the first pick, so that Adu could stay close to his Maryland home–made him the first overall pick in the 2004 MLS Super Draft. When he signed his deal, Adu became the youngest American athlete to ever sign a professional contract, an instant celebrity and the hope of an entire nation–America’s Pelé. His first year with D.C. United became a record setter, as he became the youngest to ever play a game in the MLS (April 3, against the San Jose Earthquakes) and score a goal (April 17, against the New York/New Jersey Metrostars). In fact, with everything he did for the first time, a new record was set. He ended up scoring 5 goals in 14 appearances for D.C. United that year, and he’s one of the first MLS players I ever remember getting high billing on Sportscenter and other sports news shows on a regular basis.
Adu pictured here with SL Benfica of Portugal, wouldn’t last long in his first MLS stint.
His second year with D.C. United didn’t go as smoothly, however. Adu was suspended for a game because he complained about his playing time, a sign that he might have been getting a little too big for his 16-year old britches. By 2006, however, he became a starting midfielder for D.C., playing in 29 games and netting 2 goals. Near the end of that year, though, he was traded to Real Salt Lake, which is where his odyssey really began. In 2007, he negotiated a transfer to Benfica of the Portuguese first division. Benfica loaned him out to AS Monaco of France in 2008, Beleneces of the Portuguese league for the 2009 season, Aris of the Greek league in 2010 and Çaykur Rizespor of Turkey’s second division in 2011. Late in 2011, Freddy returned to the MLS, joining the Philadelphia Union in August. He would spend the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 in the city of brotherly love, before joining Bahia of the Brazilian league. They released him after two years, citing “technical deficiencies” in Adu’s game. Adu found himself unemployed, and couldn’t even catch on with Blackpool of the English second division and Stabæk of Norway earlier this year.
On the international level, Adu had some success early on, representing the United States on the youth level at several tournaments, but his chance on the USMNT never really came. He made his USMNT debut in a friendly as a 16 year old in 2006, becoming–you guessed it–the youngest player in USMNT history. He scored his first goal in a 2009 friendly against Grenada. In all, Freddy only earned 17 caps for the senior USMNT, with only 8 starts and 2 goals. He didn’t play in the 2010 World Cup, although he did play six games during qualifying, and he hasn’t been involved at all during Jurgen Klinsmann’s administration.
Adu celebrates with teammate Terrance Boyd, after a World Cup qualifying goal.
So why did Freddy fall so short of the lofty expectations placed upon him? Did he get too much at too young an age? Was the pressure of being the American Pelé too much for such a young man’s shoulders to bear? Did he just make the wrong decisions for himself? I think it’s probably a combination of all three, which Freddy himself talked about in an interview with the official Blackpool FC Youtube channel in February. I mean, would you blame him if all of the above were true? It’s tough to be a 14-year old when all you have to worry about is going to school and talking to girls, let alone when you’re billed as the messiah of United States futbol. In that interview, Adu also reveals that he went pro because his family was very poor, and he couldn’t say no to all that money… That’s a big decision for a little kid.
The craziest part of Adu’s oddysey is that he’s still only 24 years old. If he can figure out how to correct the mistakes he says he has made, he’ll only be 28 by the time Russia 2018 comes along. If Freddy can tap back into that immense talent that pegged him as the savior of the USMNT, he could still be a weapon for our national team some day, whether Klinsmann is at the helm or not. As for now, it was announced that Freddy has a new trial lined up, this time with AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch league. Here’s hoping this is the first step to his renaissance, and that we’ll see him on the pitch with the USMNT some day soon.
Featured image courtesy of: The Associated Press
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