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Michael Lewis

January 21, 2013
The sad case of Freddy Adu

By Michael Lewis Editor

Over the past few decades, U.S. soccer (yes, that's a small s) has played out a familiar scenario whenever a young, promising male player emerges on the scene.

The media becomes enamored with this player, puts him on a high pedestal, hoping that he will lead the U.S. into soccer's promised land with great performances in front of packed stadiums and soaring TV ratings.

More often than not, these players never meet our great hopes and expectations. Some did play well, becoming very good or excellent club players, others even managed to reach the U.S. National Team.

Landon Donovan was one of the few that not only played up to his potential but became the best American soccer player, at least to date.

Then there's the sad and curious case of Freddy Adu, who will not be part of the Philadelphia Union's plans for the 2013 season, manager John Hackworth told season ticket holders in a letter that was released on Monday morning.

At an age -- 23-- when he should be a dominant club player, at an age when he should be on the National Team, Freddy Adu finds himself at another crossroads and looking for yet another soccer team.

Since signing with Major League Soccer as a 14-year-old amid great hoopla and fanfare in 2003, Adu has never played consistently enough to reach his great potential and promise.

Back in 2004, expectations were through the roof about Adu.

He was the player who was going to bring soccer to mainstream America with amazing feats with his feet and his head.

Unfortunately, you have to wonder how much might have gone to his head, believing what was said and what was written about that precocious teenager. After his signing, Adu wound up on the late night talk show circuit -- David Letterman, if memory serves me right, had him on the day he signed. MLS paraded him around as a big prize as well at several functions, including MLS Cup with commissioner Don Garber.

He eventually joined D.C. United and his bumpy professional ride began. He wanted to play more, especially after he became the youngest player in MLS history (14) to score a goal in April 2004. Coach Peter Nowak wanted to bring him along slowly.

Adu, in many instances, did not always say the correct thing and lasted three disappointing seasons with United before he was dealt to Real Salt Lake. After not making it there, Adu opted for Europe.

For the record, Adu has played for eight teams in the last decade, not exactly a record of which to be proud.

Ah, but there were some flashes of brilliance that teased us.

He rocketed home a pair of free kicks that lifted the U.S. to an Olympic qualifying tournament win over Canada in 2008.

He looked like the player we were all expecting in what turned into a head-shaking 2-2 draw with the Netherlands at the Beijing Summer Games later that year. Adu received a yellow card in that game, which kept him out of the U.S.'s final group match, a 1-0 loss to Nigeria that eliminated the Americans from the competition.

After several years in Europe, an older and wiser Adu returned home to play for the Union and Nowak in 2011. Again, he had some flashes of brilliance, but never lived up to his hype, promise, or potential.

Today, he is a player looking for a new team, something very few soccer observers in their right mind would have expected in 2003.

The crazy thing is that Adu still has time to resurrect a career that has many more disappointments and misses than high points and hits.

But I'm just wondering if there is an MLS team that is willing to give him a chance, another opportunity.

Potential and promise is such a terrible thing to waste, and like it or not, Freddy Adu has become American soccer's poster man-child for that phrase.

What a shame.

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