Aug. 6, 2008
By Michael Lewis
FROM A BOY TO A MAN
Adu key to U.S. success in Olympics
Qinhuangdao, China -- Freddy Adu is growing up.
|Freddy Adu is no longer a boy among the men.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
He still has that boyish smile, but he has started to do things that grown men in the sport have accomplished -- changed the course of games.
Now a "grizzled veteran" of 19 after making his pro debut at 14, Adu has improved his overall game and has developed a lethal free kick.
Take, for example, what he did in the 3-0 victory over Canada that clinched an Olympic spot in March, scoring off two marvelous set pieces.
During the early stages of his career, a much less mature Adu moped when U.S. Olympic coach Peter Nowak did not play him when both were at D.C. United.
"I think Freddy is starting to realize his potential," Nowak said earlier this year, "but he's starting to see the things we've talked about the last three or four years. I did understand from the beginning it was difficult for him to understand the bigger picture.
"He started to believe in his ability to change the game because sometime special players have this kind of ability but there is still hard work behind it.Ē
Now he is at Benfica (Portugal), where the focus and lifestyle are much, much different than there was in the states.
"There was a lot of pressure before," Adu said earlier this year. "Now, I'm just having a good time. I'm having fun again. Before I think I let a lot of things get to me and I allowed a lot of get in the way of my development and I don't want that to happen again. You learn from your mistakes. You really do.
"Fortunately for me, I'm young enough that I started very early now I still have enough time to correct these things and move on from there."
Adu enjoys his new status.
"Now I can focus on playing and not worrying about that stuff," he said. "Some people are going to say that you're a phenom and this and that. I don't care much about that stuff anymore. I just want to play. It's a great opportunity for me. Thank God for the talent that I have. I just want to do the best I can basically to push myself and my talent."
Asked what he has learned at Benfica, Adu replied: "How to be a better professional and a stronger person in general. I am living out there on my own. I've really learned to be a man and now deal with not having everything going your way all the time. At D.C. I dealt with it differently. At Benfica, I'm just working hard, even when I'm not in the lineup. It pays off at the end."
In order to develop Adu further, Benfica recently loaned him to AS Monaco of Ligue 1 in France, where he should see more playing time.
One player certainly doesn't make a team, especially in soccer. But if Adu is on top of his game, the U.S. might make some waves.
Not much is expected of the Americans in a first-round group that includes Japan (Aug. 7), European Under-21 champion Netherlands (Aug. 10) and 1996 Olympic gold-medalists Nigeria (Aug. 13). The U.S. faced a similar scenario at the 2000 Sydney Games behind an emerging 18-year-old Landon Donovan. The U.S., which reached the medal round for the first time, finished fourth.
But Nowak hasn't been talking about medals. "As much as you would like to win all of the games, itís more important to see how we progress," he said.
Aduís supporting cast includes former Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore, a recent transfer to Villarreal (Spain) for an American-record $10 million, ex-MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley (no club), ex-Bulls defender Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC), Clifton, N.J. native and midfielder Danny Szetela (Brescia Calcio) and ex-Seton Hall midfielder Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA).
The three overage players Ė FIFA allows three over 23-years-old per team -- are 36-year-old forward Brian McBride, the only American to have scored in two World Cups, New England Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst and Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), waiting his transfer to Aston Villa (England) to become official.