The Ballad of Freddy Adu

On Saturday in Monaco, A.S. Monaco beat Stade Rennes, 3 to 1, giving Monaco 40 points on the season thus far and securing a spot in the middle of the French Ligue 1 table. Sitting on Monaco’s bench, was one Freddy Adu, watching his team take on a Rennes’ squad that included the captain of the US National Team, Carlos Bocanegra. Despite suiting up on Saturday, Adu did not see any playing time.

The apparently star-crossed story of Freddy Adu is familiar to most American soccer fans. Born in Ghana, Adu moved to the United States as a young boy, when his mom won the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s “Green Card Lottery.” Adu’s raw soccer talent was so recognizable that he was the first pick in the MLS’s 2004 SuperDraft, going to D.C. United. On April 3, 2004, Adu was a second half substitute in a match against the San Jose Earthquakes. While there is some dispute concerning Adu’s actual age, Adu was reportedly 14 years old when he made his first MLS appearance, making him the youngest player to ever appear in a professional team sport in the United States since at least 1887.

Despite the high expectations and promising skills, Adu’s MLS career can best be characterized as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While American culture tends to give lip service to the concept of individualism, American team sports have a tendency of being suspicious of any player, especially a young player, who, like Adu, shows too much personal flair on the playing field. During his first couple seasons at United, Adu was a yo-yo, bouncing from the bench to a starting position and back to the bench so often that he was fined for complaining to the press about his playing time. By the 2006 MLS season, Adu secured himself a starting position in United’s midfield, and it appeared that he was on the verge of a breakout season in 2007. But in December of 2006, United traded Adu to Real Salt Lake where he would once again have to start from scratch to prove his worth on the pitch.

When the 2007 MLS season started, Adu was a starter for Real Salt Lake, but he only managed to score 1 goal in eleven MLS matches. That the cause of Adu’s woes at Real Salt Lake may not have been solely on his shoulders was evidenced by his performance in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he scored 3 goals and served as captain of a team that beat Brazil and made it to the quarterfinals.

Adu’s performance for the USMNT U-20 team caught the attention of Portugal’s S.L. Benfica, which paid a $2 million transfer fee to obtain Adu from the MLS. While American soccer fans hoped that Adu’s natural talent would be nurtured and enhanced at Benfica, fate stepped in and Fernando Santos, the club’s coach who had championed the Adu transfer, was sacked and replaced by Jose Antonio Camacho. Reports indicate that, on the whole, the coaching staff was pleased with Adu’s skills and training ethic, but during the 2008 summer transfer window Adu was loaned to A.S. Monaco for the 2008/09 season, with an option to make the transfer permanent.

American soccer fans who were disappointed with Adu’s minimal playing time at Benfica hoped that Adu would finally see more serious playing time in Europe since Monaco’s managing owner, Jerome de Bontin, studied in the United States and has strong business ties with the country. In his time since his move from Portugal to France, the young American midfielder/striker has yet to start a match and has only seen action in nine matches. Adu has not scored any goals, but he has two shots and managed to get one yellow card. With only 6 more matches left in the 2008/09 season, it is unlikely that Adu will see a significant increase in his playing time at Monaco.

Whether Adu ends up making a permanent move to Monaco or returns to Benfica, unless he has a breakout summer with the U.S. National Team during the Confederation Cup and its World Cup Qualifiers this summer, history indicates that it is unlikely that Adu will see increased playing time in the 2009/10 season in Portugal or France. As it is, despite scoring against Guatemala last November in a World Cup Qualifier, Adu has not dressed for the National side’s most recent World Cup Qualifiers, with Adu’s lack of playing time at Monaco the seeming excuse for his diminished role with the USMNT.

The time has come, especially after the recent squabble with A.C. Milan over David Beckham, for U.S. Soccer to man up and assert itself on the international club scene. If American talent, like Freddy Adu, is wasting away as a seldom used sub or reserve on a club in Europe, U.S. Soccer needs to voice its concern and take the necessary steps to get that player moved, on loan or permanent transfer, to a club where he will get plenty of playing time.

When Europe’s transfer window opens this summer, U.S. Soccer should champion a deal that will net Adu playing time, even if that means pressuring the MLS or USL into bringing him back to the States for a short summer loan. If MLS or USL balk at any proposed transfer/loan fees, U.S. Soccer should step in and help fund said fees. Since the MLS has shown a willingness to bend its complicated transfer and acquisition rules in the past, it should do so again to ensure that Adu would end up with a coach who won’t be afraid to rely on and nurture Adu’s talent, and guarantee him significant playing time. Ideal locations for Adu in the MLS would be with Sigi Schmid and Seattle Sounders FC, Frank Yallop and San Jose Earthquakes, Curt Onalfo and Kansas City Wizards, Preki and Chivas USA, or Dominic Kinnear and Houston Dynamo, just to name a few.

I know it will be hard for MLS to put marketing and publicity on the backburner and instead focus on a placement that will enable the best development of Adu’s talent, but for the love of the future of the beautiful game in the United States, it is time to bring Freddy home where he can play and develop, even if it is just for a couple months.

— Brian Zygo is the Bureau Chief of the World Soccer Wrap Houston Bureau, the host of World Soccer Wrap: Serie A, and a co-host of The Soccer Show on 1560 The Game in Houston, Texas. He is also the kind of guy who will go out of his way to use the term soccer because he knows it will annoy some people to no end.

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