There is no “try” — Adu or not Adu

Anyone made that pun yet? I think we’re all racing now to make the last possible pun on Freddy Adu’s name.

The young American’s status is up in the air again after a trial with Switzerland’s FC Sion didn’t pan out. (Aside to headline writers: “Not signing” and “failed to impress” or not the same thing.)

Now we have a report that Adu is “close to signing” with the Los Angeles Galaxy. My background doesn’t give me much faith in anonymous reports — which works out well, because no one ever tells me anything — but World Soccer Reader has shown itself to be more sincere and reliable in its reporting than most. And it’s interesting that the mainstreamers who could easily throw cold water on such reports have not done so.

“Close to signing,” of course, is a nebulous term, and many things can derail a deal that seems close to happening. This isn’t the NBA, where teams are basically bidding against each other for free agents, and players are weighing only a couple of factors. This is international soccer and MLS, where the multiple parties must agree on transfer terms, contract terms, compensation for the team holding allocation rights, salary cap impact, etc., etc.

So while we wait to see if this deal comes to fruition, we can ask: Should Freddy Adu come back to MLS?

I say no. Here’s why:

Adu is the classic example of how the old media “build up, tear down” celebrity cycle has been accelerated and magnified in the Internet Age. Some people thought he was never that good. Some people legitimately bought the “new Pele” line, though no one in a position of authority was actually calling him that. Some people thought he was several years older than he said.

Let’s destroy all three of those arguments, in reverse order:

Age: Sports Illustrated gave this issue an exhaustive investigation and found that, while it’s true record-keeping in Adu’s birthplace of Ghana isn’t reliable, there’s no evidence to prove he isn’t as young as was claimed. My take after interviewing him several times between 2004 and 2008 is that he was a young kid in 2004 and physically matured a good bit. (Don’t put much stock in what “official” rosters say, and in any case, physical maturity doesn’t always mean adding a ton of weight.)

If he hasn’t improved his game since age 14, that’s not much reason for skepticism. Sometimes, physical maturity can mess up a player’s game. At senior level, Adu was dispossessed too easily, so he tried to bulk up. A player can add bulk and find that he’s not as explosive as he was. So it’s entirely possible that a reasonable solution yielded another problem.

Next Pele: Can’t say that about a 14-year-old, period. The fact that your game can change as your body changes is just one reason. Some players get bigger and better. Some players get bigger and find their coordination and endurance isn’t what it was. Some players don’t get bigger, and they get left behind by their peers. Some players don’t get bigger, and they become Lionel Messi anyway.

And some players, through a combination of their own attitude and others’ competence, don’t get the coaching they need.

Never that good: Adu was one of the best players at several international youth championships. That’s not always indicative of future success for all the reasons given above. But it means the hype wasn’t manufactured out of nothing.

Watch and enjoy:

(Note that his athleticism isn’t spectacular. It’s his skill and vision.)

So that’s why we all had such interest early on. Since then?

In MLS, he was a competent player at age 14 and a very good one by age 16. He was on the All-Star team for name recognition in 2004 but returned to the squad on merit in 2006. He learned enough defense to play on the wing, and he was an effective player on a Supporters Shield-winning team. (Then Peter Nowak inexplicably took him out of a playoff game with United trailing 1-0 when Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez were completely ineffective, a curious end to his D.C. United career.)

Since 2007, we haven’t had many chances to see him play — a glimpse here and there with Benfica, an occasional run with the national team, etc. His biggest stage was in the 2008 Olympics, which features U-23s and a few “overage” exceptions, and he was terrific. In a Gold Cup game against Honduras last year, he was less than terrific.

A return to a league in which we could all occasionally see him play would be nice. A return to MLS puts him face to face with the defenders who always hacked him down out of jealousy, along with the reporters who have been writing “Much Adu About Nothing” stories since 2004.

Mexico, the Netherlands, maybe a second tier in a “Big Four” country — all better choices than MLS.

But in addition to no one telling me anything, no one listens to me. Perhaps with good reason. So until proven otherwise, keep an eye on those MLS reports.


  1. I’ll take that as disagreement?

    Freddy thinks so. Long-Range Goals, p. 163: “It got to a point where I was just sick and tired of getting pushed around a little bit by the older guys. You’ve gotta fight back sometimes.”

    The league has its share of “physical” players, and there was palpable resentment around the league. You could argue that he was simply getting fouled for the same reason DaMarcus Beasley or Alejandro Moreno draw fouls — they’re dangerous players. But at times, it seemed people were trying to send a message.

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