Mystery of America’s Pele: Freddy Adu

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Imagine this: Before your 15th birthday, you’ve become the youngest player ever in Major League Soccer, signed numerous endorsement deals, appeared on Letterman, and even been described as the “New Pele”. For Freddy Adu, that was reality.

Freddy Adu’s young career began as a promising one after being the first pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by D.C. United. The then 14-year old, played in a total of 30 matches during his first season and 25 in his second. After receiving heavy criticism following his first two seasons in MLS, many claiming that Adu was far too young and undeveloped, the young American prodigy was shuffled from club to club for over 4 years. Finally in 2011, Freddy Adu returned to Major League Soccer and signed with the Philadelphia Union reuniting the 22 year old with former D.C. United and United States U-23 Coach Piotr Nowak. Despite the idea from many that a matured and developed Adu would now make a name for himself in the league where his career began, less than 2 years later he would again leave on loan with a small Brazilian club. Adu soon found himself without a club all together until just days ago when transfer rumors surfaced of Adu signing with Serbian club FK Jagodina.

Many sit and look at the senior career of this not-so-senior footballer and find themselves baffled. How was it possible for a player of Freddy Adu’s talent and promise to now be without club, seeking employment in a league comparable to minor leagues here in the US? How can a 14-year-old phenom considered the “American Pele” and the future of US Soccer, now be lost and forgotten at age 24?

Adu’s young and undeveloped talent cannot be to blame for his short-lived early career at Major League Soccer. If a player talented enough to make the first team enters an MLS franchise, but struggles down the road, that player is brought down to the reserves for further development. Despite the US’ at times-faulty developmental system, it is not a “make-or-break” system.

If Adu’s ability was to blame, and there were major faults in game, what does this say about the developmental side of US Soccer? Have this be the case, the US was completely premature in their projections and assumptions of Adu’s talent and future.

Many believe that Freddy Adu cannot find a permanent home within MLS because of his perceived failure in Philadelphia as the team struggled greatly in 2011. Despite the popular dislike, I eliminate that alternative with good reason. In 2011, Freddy Adu had a great year; wise chance creation, optimistic attacking, hard work back on defense. The problem being that Philadelphia struggled to finish, only scoring 81 goals, an issue we still see today. Now, all fault is certainly not taken off of Freddy Adu because of Philly’s inability to create chances and finish. But at times, many tend to push blame towards Adu; his past “failures”, disappointing early career, and rumors of his attitude off the field. While this is the case for many, they forget to actually look at his career. I urge you to watch this highlight reel of Adu’s 2011 stint with Philadelphia; it might just change your thoughts.

[youtube id=”scsDNMzJewc” width=”620″ height=”360″]

I go back to my first statement; put your self in Freddy Adu’s boots. At the young age of just 14, expectations on you are set extremely high, and when you don’t reach those expectations, you’re written off as a failure.

The intent of this article is not to pinpoint fault or responsibility of one person or anyone, whether it is Freddy Adu himself, coaches, staff, MLS, or just the bad luck of a young prodigy. The purpose is to outline the given information and open the door to the untold disappearance of America’s Pele.


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