- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

D.C. United forward Freddy Adu might not be tearing up opponent’s defenses just yet, but the 14-year-old is sure pulling in crowds, especially when his club plays away from home.

United is averaging a Major League Soccer-high 26,882 on the road due to Adu’s drawing power. Last season the team averaged 15,392 away from home.

Adu, who has scored two goals in nine games for United (2-4-3), is certainly earning his $500,000 paycheck in ticket sales. Away from RFK Stadium the youngster is attracting an extra 13,386 more fans a game for MLS, worth more than $330,000 at $25 a ticket. The Potomac resident has played before five of the league’s seven biggest crowds.

“Obviously, it’s good for the sport and good for the league,” Adu said this week. “Whatever we can do now to help the league out we are going to do.”

Adu’s popularity is quite remarkable. Last week United visited the Colorado Rapids, and a crowd of 31,443 turned out at Invesco Field in Denver. For previous three home games the Rapids drew crowds of 7,784, 8,425 and 13,417, an average of 9,875. When United visited the MetroStars at Giants Stadium in April, the match pulled in 31,419, the stadium’s biggest crowd of the season. For their next game, the MetroStars attracted just 7,522 for a Sunday afternoon match with the New England Revolution.

Adu, who turns 15 on Wednesday, tries his best to deflect attention from himself.

“The crowds are coming out to watch D.C. play because D.C. has always been a great team,” Adu said. “This year we are even better, because I feel like we are playing the best soccer in the league. ”

The rookie can be excused for his overly rosy assessment. With nearly a third of the season gone, United is pretty much where it was last year — struggling to score goals, plagued by injuries and lacking shape on the field. Fans around America are hardly flocking to see the team — it’s all Adu. Star power is what MLS needs, but it doesn’t come cheap in today’s soccer environment.

The Los Angeles Galaxy, which pulls in the biggest home gates in the league at its Home Depot Center, drew its largest crowd (27,000) when Adu visited in April. The San Jose Earthquakes drew 17,211 when Adu came to town early this month, nearly 8,000 more than average.

New England has averaged 13,374 this season, but team officials say they expect the biggest crowd of the year at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., when Adu and United arrive for tonight’s match. The Revolution’s usual downsized capacity for an MLS game is 20,000, but the team is opening other sections of the stadium for the game.

Adu, who locked up an endorsement with Campbell Soup this week, also has had an impact on television ratings. According to reports, the three ESPN2 telecasts that featured Adu were up 73 percent over last year’s viewership.

At home, Adu-mania has slowly worn off. United’s attendance has decreased each week from its opening-game sellout of 24,603 at RFK Stadium. Still the team is averaging a solid 18,681, third in the league behind the Galaxy (23,338) and the MetroStars (18,920).

Traditionally, United has drawn a large crowd from the local Hispanic community, which is largely Salvadoran. But many of those fans have not bought into the Adu phenomena and seem more interested in United’s Salvadoran forward, Ronald Cerritos, getting playing time.

U.S. team — American national team coach Bruce Arena has named what could be his strongest roster of 18 players to face Honduras at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., on Wednesday. The exhibition will serve as the U.S. team’s final warmup before 2006 World Cup qualifying, which kicks off June13 against Grenada in Columbus, Ohio. American captain Claudio Reyna will reach a career milestone in Foxboro, appearing in his 100th game for the national team.

D.C. United players Bobby Convey and Earnie Stewart made the roster. This is Stewart’s first call-up for the team in 2004. Last year he played 13 times for his country and has earned a total of 97 caps.

MetroStars goalie Jonny Walker joined the team this week to replace Brad Friedel, who is out with a quadriceps injury. Manchester United goalie Tim Howard is expected to be the starting goalie for the game, which will be shown on Telemundo via tape delay at 11:30 p.m.

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