Freddy Adu’s career trajectory has gone off the rails in the past few years. The one-time American prodigy who was compared to the greats of the game at a young age has cycled through club after club all over the globe during the past eight years. Adu hasn’t been capped for the US Men’s National Team since 2011.
A move to Thomas Rongen’s Tampa Bay Rowdies seems like a last-ditch effort to salvage Adu’s waning career. Playing in the second tier of American soccer, Tampa Bay is an ambitious club whose marketing prowess and spending on players is unrivaled outside Major League Soccer, except by the New York Cosmos.
If any coach can get the best out of Adu, it is likely Rongen who managed the player in two FIFA U-20 World Cups for the United States. In the 2007 tournament, where the US reached the quarterfinals, Adu was brilliant, dominating in the group stage including an immense performance in a 2-1 win over a Brazil.
After that World Cup performance, Adu was signed by Benfica and immediately found a role in the setup for the Portuguese giants. Serving as a super sub who could inject both pace and creativity late on in matches, Adu seemed on his way at just 18 to a stellar European career. At the same time, Adu was brought into the senior US Men’s National Team and became a regular selection.
But the sacking of coach Fernando Santos (who would later manage Greece at the Euros and World Cup) led to Adu rotting in the reserves. Still, in the summer of 2008, in two US friendlies on European soil against England and Spain, Adu was arguably the most impressive US player. The following season he was loaned to AS Monaco but only featured nine times for the club.
Adu’s lack of playing time meant that even though he was selected for the US squad for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup by coach Bob Bradley, he was no longer assured of time on the pitch and in fact did not play a minute in the tournament where the US surprisingly reached the final.
During the following two seasons, Adu was loaned to three different clubs by Benfica, never settling at any of them and seeing his national team career seemingly end. He was omitted from selection for every US National Team squad after the 2009 Gold Cup until 2011. In 2010, he was nowhere near being selected for the World Cup squad in Brazil.
The United States National Team had moved on from Adu, or so it appeared. But after a succession of poor results in friendlies culminating in a 4-0 embarrassment in Foxborough, Massachusetts against Spain, Bradley — with his job on the line — recalled Adu for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament many felt the US had to win to save the coach’s job.
Bradley selected him and Adu made the difference, injecting life into a morbid US squad and helping lead the team to the final after a great semifinal performance against Panama.
In the final, Adu got his first US start in two years and was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first half as the United States raced out to a 2-0 lead in front of a largely hostile southern California crowd against rival Mexico. But El Tri had too much quality for the US that day and came back to win 4-2. In the days following the match, Bradley was sacked and Adu has not been called into the US squad since.
Adu’s stint with the Philadelphia Union in Major League Soccer, which began soon after that Gold Cup wasn’t a disaster but didn’t distinguish the player. But in the two and a half years since he left the Union, he has moved from club to club in four countries and two continents hardly playing and becoming the butt of jokes instead. Word has filtered out of each of those clubs that Adu has demonstrated a bad attitude and a seeming sense of entitlement. Whether this is the case or not, who knows, because after all the player has been under a microscope since signing his first pro contract with MLS at age 13.
Still only 26, Adu has the physical tools to still be a useful player. Returning to the United States and NASL might do the trick. The league, while physical and at times downright defensive, does have its tactical variation. The Rowdies, one of the better teams in the league, sport a number of players that can complement Adu’s attacking talent.
The Rowdies are an ambitious team with ownership that has invested a great deal of money into marketing the club. Signing Adu is a statement of intent that also makes the Rowdies an even stronger brand from a marketing standpoint. The question is whether or not Adu will reciprocate the faith of Rongen and the Rowdies by demonstrating a good attitude and showing signs of returning to heights he once enjoyed.
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