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Freddy Adu

Why Has Adu’s Play Improved Dramatically With Benfica?


Freddy Adu’s rocky career in Major League Soccer ended with hardly a notice. Lost in the hype over David Beckham’s arrival stateside and the summer tournaments for the US National Team, Adu once MLS’ most marketable and brightest star was suffering through a miserable year in MLS purgatory: Salt Lake City. When Benfica came calling for Adu, the once bright hope for the US’ first legitimate world superstar was sold for less than Celtic had offered MLS for Shalrie Joseph a few months earlier, and half as much as the league had received for Clint Dempsey. Adu’s career in MLS which had some bright spots (which were often forgotten by those eager to anoint him as an American Pele at 14 and a bust by 17) including some very good goals in DC United’s MLS Cup run in 2004 (when Adu 15). But no doubt Adu was stagnating as a player by the time he reached 17, thanks to somewhat unsophisticated MLS training techniques and bad tactical management by Peter Nowak and later Jason Kreis.

Freddy Adu has a small frame, is quick and is left footed. Thus much like Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley two other young phenoms developed in MLS and sold to European clubs, he was placed out on the left side as a wide player because he fit the mold Americanized managers look for in that position. However, unlike Beasley and Convey, Adu is a technically gifted player: I would argue he is the most technically gifted American player since Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda played in the 1990s.

Adu’s time at Benfica have been filled with adversity and have challenged a kid who back home in the US much was expected of, but few tools were given too. First Adu broke his way into the Benfica first team, becoming an option off the bench but a coaching change sent Adu back to the reserves. The Adu had to train hard and work his way up: something that was never a concern for him in MLS, where he was entitled to play in every game mind you out of position. The other thing that has happened is that Benfica’s coaches quickly recognized Adu belongs in a freer role where he can roam around and create chances with his technical skill and speed. Adu isn’t confined to the left side in Lisbon as he was in Washington or Salt Lake City.

The results have been fantastic. Adu has scored five goals in the last month for the Lisbon club and now is the first or second option off the bench for his club. Along with DaMarcus Beasley, Adu is winning respect for American Footballers on the continent with his play in the Champions League. Adu’s continued development below the radar in Portugal is great news not only for the US National Team, but for other Americans in MLS who will be given a great opportunity to impress in some of the less visible European leagues in the near future, thanks to Freddy Adu.

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  1. Bobby

    November 29, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    I think maturity had a lot to do with it also. In MLS he was babied and made to believe he was better than his team mates. In Portugal he’s just another guy and thriving on the challenge.

  2. JL

    November 29, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    The kid wasn’t even 18 and he was being written off by most of you. It’s amazing what a change of scenery and some decent tactical coaching will do for you. MLS has proven time and time again it is not the place to develop players. That is why the best young Americans should all play abroad until they are at least 25 and then they can come home to MLS.

  3. Harvey

    November 29, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Adu is playing with confidence and feeling wanted now. I think by the time he was 15 he was regretting signing with MLS and wished he had gone to Europe when he had the chance. As poorly as he appeared to play thereafter he was simply running out the clock until he turned 18. I still think without question he’ll be our best player of this generation and maybe our best ever. He just needed to go to Europe and swim with the big boys.

  4. Kartik

    November 29, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Great point, derrick about the style of play also. Too often MLS teams don’t play in the ground and just send it forward. That’s something that most certainly did not suit Adu’s game.

  5. Soccer Guru

    November 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Adu was mishandled from the word go by MLS and DC United. They attempted to manipulate the kid for marketing purposes and made no effort whatsoever to work on improving his game and giving him the technical training so vital from ages 14 to 16. They could have completely ruined him had he not gotten out when he did.

  6. derrickinsf

    November 28, 2007 at 3:48 am

    Two good points: “unsophisticated MLS training techniques” and “bad tactical management by Peter Nowak and later Jason Kreis”

    MLS is growing but poor management is a major problem. Now he is pushed, he’s surrounded by other technical players. That’s a big one. Imagine Magic Johnson surrounded by guys who who have no idea how to play with a player that’s going to throw no look passes. Even Beckham has struggled when players aren’t making intelligent runs or aren’t dealing with his passes.

    In MLS a lot of teams (not all) just want to hoof it forward. That’s not Adu’s game. He’s wants the ball on the deck in quick, short passes. Portugal challenges him but also plays a brand of football that plays to his strengths.

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