- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

Freddy Adu is finding his comfort zone — thanks in part to fewer distractions.

As his on-field time has increased and his demanding off-field commitments have diminished, the D.C. United forward has elevated his game the last five matches.

“Once you get past all the appearances and the media and all that stuff and being pretty hard core, it makes it pretty easy to just concentrate and just play,” the 15-year-old Adu said. “Also, I had a lot of problems with adjusting to the team and the team aspect. I seemed to have always been in the wrong position, and I wasn’t sure where to go sometimes. Now when you see me at practice, I’m telling people where to go and I’m much more comfortable now in just playing and being me.”

Adu hopes to continue his run of good play tonight when United (5-7-6) takes on the MLS champion Earthquakes (5-6-6) in San Jose, Calif.

Adu’s recent performances show progress:

• He converted a penalty kick in United’s 1-1 draw against English club Nottingham Forest (United won 4-3 on penalty kicks) on July14.

• Three days later against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Adu helped create late-game scoring chances that had the Galaxy on their heels in a 1-1 tie.

• In United’s 2-1 loss to the A-League’s Richmond Kickers in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, midfielder Nana Kuffour headed in Adu’s perfectly placed corner kick for United’s goal.

• Against the Dallas Burn two weeks ago, an Adu shot slammed off Burn defender Cory Gibbs for an own-goal and United’s only tally in a 5-1 debacle.

• Adu delighted the home crowd Saturday in the MLS All-Star Game at RFK Stadium with his superior ball skills and nearly scored a goal when his 18-yard, left-footed shot narrowly missed the crossbar.

“Freddy has been one of the bright spots the last couple games with him coming on and stepping up and doing the stuff he can do out there,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “The second half of the season he’s going to have less pressure because the hoopla has subsided a little bit, and he can now concentrate on doing the soccer side.

“He’s had to step up with some of the teams out there — a lot of young guys [do] — and maybe he felt more confident. No one ever questions this guy’s talent, and no one is ever going to question that he’s going to be a great player. It’s just when does that happen?”

When United selected Adu with the first pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft, he was tabbed the newest and brightest star in American soccer, especially in a league devoid of marquee star power.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put all the hopes of U.S. soccer on a 15-year-old. I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s right,” United midfielder Earnie Stewart said. “I’m happy for him that [the hype] has finally ebbed down a little bit and he can concentrate on the other things.”

Because of Adu, United is the top road draw in MLS at 22,644 a game — 8,000 more than the league average. Adu has been dominant on various U.S. national youth teams but has found the going tougher against the grizzled veterans in MLS. In 18 league games, Adu has two goals and one assist.

“I think it was unfair — the expectations to start with,” United forward Alecko Eskandarian said. “People who were expecting him to come in and score five goals a game, they’re smoking something. I think he’s come around just fine, and he’s really starting to develop the way everyone thought he would.”

Given Adu’s recent play, his numbers undoubtedly will go up. United coach Peter Nowak said his teenage star will play in every game and may start a few. He also added that Adu has earned the respect of his teammates, something that may have been lacking at the beginning.

“I talked to him, and I’m very, very impressed that he has started to realize what is important in his game, going after people and winning balls,” Nowak said. “His teammates are trusting him — they’re playing many balls to him, and he’s getting a lot of touches. He understands where we’re going, and he understands what I expect of him. He needs the pat on the shoulder, but when he screws up, then he needs it to be tougher on him. He understands that, and it’s only for his own good.”

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