August 14, 2006

One-time prodigy Adu becomes legitimate All-Star

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Freddy Adu methodically lines up
five soccer balls during a post-practice competition with D.C.
United team mate Alecko Eskandarian.

Eskandarian has already banged home four of five balls from
25 metres out against United goalkeeper Troy Perkins and now it
is down to Ghana-born Adu.

He turns to Eskandarian and smiles. Eskandarian then
watches in awe as Adu fires all five in succession past a
bewildered Perkins, who looks skyward with his hands on hips.

By this time, Adu, once labeled as the saviour of American
soccer, is parading around like he has just won the World Cup.

One year after a bitter feud with D.C. United coach Peter
Nowak threatened to derail Adu's path to the top, the
17-year-old midfielder is having a blast again.

Soft-spoken, polite, and displaying uncommon poise for a
teenager, Adu has been on center stage since signing a
league-high $500,000-a-year contract with Major League Soccer's
United club at the age of 14.

But Adu now admits the expectations that had him pegged as
a soon-to-be star in Europe for Chelsea, Manchester United or
Real Madrid were fantasy.

"They were unrealistic. Very unrealistic," he said. "I
didn't know it at the time. Then I starting playing and I was
like, 'Wow, this is not easy at all.'

"I had to step back, calm down. Think about everything. And
re-evaluate my goals."


Adu is a legitimate All-Star this season, unlike two years
ago when he was selected on his ability to boost the number of
television viewers for the ratings-starved league.

The 5-foot-8, 145-pound midfielder with uncanny quickness
has one goal but his six assists are tied for second on the
team. His statistics, however, do not tell the story of his

Adu has a more mature feel for the game, a focus that
allows him to see more clearly what is developing on both ends
of the field.

"He's getting better every year," said fellow All-Star
Eskandarian. "He's having the normal progression for somebody
who is a teenager. There is no substitute for experience."

Perhaps his biggest supporter is Nowak, although the
tough-talking, no-nonsense coach refuses to give him the star

The two quarreled openly at the end of last year, leading
to a one-game suspension for Adu, and it appeared the
boy-wonder was headed out of Washington.

"He understands what I demand from him," said Nowak. "He
understands all I want to see for him to be a good human being
and a successful soccer player.

"He had a tough time in the beginning. But we pushed the
first domino and now it is working," said Nowak. "The team
believes in him and the coaching staff believes in him. It's a
process that we knew would not happen overnight."


Adu started 14 of 30 games in his first year and 16 of 25 a
year ago. But now the prodigy understands the demands of
professional soccer and is a fixture in United's starting

"Freddy's done well, he really has," said Ronnie O'Brien,
an Irish All-Star midfielder for F.C. Dallas. "I know he has
pressure on him, coming into the league with all the hype and
the money."

Adu, who scored the winning goal against Scottish champions
Celtic in a friendly last month, has not abandoned his dream of
playing for one of the top leagues in Europe.

However, he is no longer obsessed with knowing when he is
going or where, saying his time will come. Right now, he enjoys
playing with United, the front-runners in the MLS's Eastern
Division with a 13-2-6 record.

"I had a different mindset coming into this season," said
Adu. "I said, 'OK, I've been here for two years. No excuses,
you've got to come out here and produce. Bottom line, you can't
go through another season where you're starting on and off. You
have to contribute."'

Adu turns 18 next year and will be eligible to sign a
contract with a major European team.

"I always used to talk about how I wanted to go to Europe
and play for a big club like Man U or Chelsea. Obviously, I'm
getting closer to the age to the age where I can move overseas.

"But right now, I'll let my agent worry about that. We're
winning, everything's going great, everyone's having fun. I'm
just enjoying myself, man. Everything's clicking."