Freddy Adu is no longer the best US men’s national team soccer player who has never played for the team.
There’s at least two reasons for this.
First is that he has taken the field for the USA, several times in fact, though only once in a major international tournament. And when he has played, he hasn’t done a whole lot.
Second is Jermaine Jones, who has switched his eligibility from Germany–where he likely was not going to get a chance to contribute–to the USA, where he could probably have gotten a lot more playing time at the World Cup in South Africa had he been healthy.
Two goals and second place to a German transfer–albeit a pretty good one–was not really what was expected of Adu when he barnstormed the USA and the MLS as a 14-year-old wunderkind in 2004.
At the time, the young Ghanian was touted as the saving grace of soccer in North America by such authoritative media outlets as the Late Show with David Letterman, and the 60 Minutes news program, and blessed as the “heir apparent” in a series of television ads he made co-starring Pelé.
After winning the MLS Cup title as a member of the DC United squad in 2004, everything seemed to be going to plan for all concerned.
But despite that early success–not entirely of his own doing–Adu never quite took hold in the hearts of US or MLS fans.
Interviews and news reports about him, during his 2-3 years at center stage in the USA soccer scene, became a repetitive litany that went something like this: “He’s just 14 years old (he seemed to stay that age for at least two years), and, just like ‘a regular kid’, he enjoys video games and hanging out with his friends; the only difference? he’s a professional athlete!”
It was all likely true, too. He seemed to be a just a kid, but as a kid he was very much in over his head trying to become Pele in a land that did not yet even know of “Beckham of Hollywood”, much less the net-rattling “Beckham-of-United”.
On the field too, Adu seemed just a kid. He was quick-footed, but not really blazing fast, nimble but not ghost-like, offensively-minded, but not a goal machine.
To his credit, the kid seemed to know he was a kid. Even as those around him wanted him to rocket to greatness, he was good enough to know that he wasn’t great. . .
. . . yet?
Looking back on that time, however, the easy observation to make is that probably too much was expected of him, at too young an age and, despite being a professional talent, there is no way he could never reach the level that was foretold for him.
In the end, it was not really a surprise then when Adu left the MLS for Portugal’s Benfica club at the very start of the 2007 season.
Since then, he seems to have spent even less time in Portugal than he did in the USA; he’s on loan for the third year in a row, currently to Thessaloniki of Greece.
Still, he’s just turned 21 this year and that could mean at least another 10-12 years at the top of his game and another three cracks at the World Cup squad. There’s plenty of time for Freddy Adu to become a major factor in US soccer, if not its (likely now unneeded) savior.
After all, in the few years since 2007, Zinedine Zidane came out of retirement (and then head-butted his way back into it), Michael Owen’s once bright star dimmed but is risen again, and David Letterman . . . well, let’s just say Letterman has had his own brand of ups and downs too and leave it at that.