When Freddy Adu joined DC United at 14 years old, both he and Peter Nowak were under a tremendous amount of pressure. The teenaged sensation took multiple trips around the television talk show circuit, he participated in several 'next big thing' marketing campaigns including a soft drink commercial with Pele, and somehow found time to play professional soccer against men twice his age (and size).
Nowak, on the other hand, had to balance the young star's development and playing time while finding his own way as a coach - shouldering the weight of the league brass, sponsors, media, fans of the team, and a wider-than-ordinary soccer audience who just wanted to see the kid play.
Things will be different this time around...Two years before he could even apply for a learner's permit, Freddy was making more money than nearly everyone else in the league (and far more than anyone on his team). As if that weren't enough to put a target on the young man's back, everyone - from the most casual sports fan to the guys on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption - was clamoring for his inclusion in the starting XI.
As bullheaded as he can be, the fiery Nowak was forced to put Adu on the field far more than he felt was developmentally appropriate. The very same man is in no hurry to throw the highly talented Zach Pfeffer into the fray...
With a couple of years and goals under his belt, Adu became increasingly impatient, voicing his frustration over his role with the team. Europe was clearly on his mind but there were still questions as to whether or not he could cut it, so he made a brief reunion-with-old-residency-coach move to Real Salt Lake. 11 games later, Freddy found himself stuck on the flank again and used a stellar U-20 World Cup performance to springboard out of Utah and into his well documented misadventures overseas.
At 22, Freddy Adu returns to the league with 8 years as a professional under his belt. He's been capped 17 times for the USMNT, which would make him the 2nd most capped American on the Union behind Danny Califf's 23 appearances. He has already opened his Major League Soccer account with 12 goals, 20 assists, and an MLS Cup to his name.
Freddy joins a 2nd year squad that boasts a dozen guys under the age of 24 (and we can expect a few more homegrown youngsters to jump up to fill out the squad in the near future). While he has plenty of room to improve, how many kids one year removed from a 4-year college career have blossomed into the finished product?
Adu's name and salary will certainly draw more attention than any other to pull on the blue and gold thus far, though it will pale in comparison to the circus that first welcomed him into the spotlight. He will be under a microscope locally and fans around the league will take notice, but the soccer world has significantly cooled its expectations on his playing time and production.
Freddy has always had a way with words and knows how to seal the deal with his infectious smile. Read or watch an interview at the start of any one of his many club stints (DC United, Real Salt Lake, Benfica, Monaco, Belenenses, Rizespor) or tours of duty with the U-17, U-20, Olympic, and full Men's National Team, and you will hear all about how he may not have been fully ready or focused at the start of his previous venture, but he has now matured and is prepared to earn his way through hard work and dedication this time. I fully expect to hear it all over again, and it's tough to swallow the Kool-Aid when it didn't sit well the last 5 or 6 times...
...oh well (*gulp*) this really does seem like the most realistic shot for him to succeed and it's hard not to pull for the kid.