- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Local teenage soccer prodigy Freddy Adu signed a contract with Major League Soccer and will join D.C. United as the top pick in January’s draft.

The 14-year-old Adu, who lives with his family in Potomac, signed a four-year deal with MLS that includes two option years, making the teenager the highest-paid player in the league, a source with knowledge of the deal said.

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones was MLS’ highest-paid player this season at $600,000. Terms of Adu’s contract were undisclosed.

“Not one person in the world soccer industry, from all the naysayers in this country to every major soccer team in Europe, thought that we would sign Freddy,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told sportsillustrated.com. “This says strongly that we are serious about the business of growing the sport of soccer in this country.”

Adu will become the youngest player for a U.S. top-level pro team since 14-year-old Fred Chapman debuted in major league baseball in 1887.

To secure Adu’s rights, United will trade a major allocation to the last-place Dallas Burn, who own the top pick in the draft. That allocation could be the one United would receive if midfielder Marco Etcheverry announces his retirement, according to sportsillustrated.com.

MLS prohibited United officials from commenting on Adu until the league formally makes his signing official today in New York.

“We’re under a gag order,” United spokesman Doug Hicks said, even though Garber publicly acknowledged Adu’s signing.

MLS, however, already is showing off its newest star. Adu is scheduled to appear tonight on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

“I grew up watching MLS, and I look forward to the challenge,” Adu told the Associated Press. “This league will help me develop as a player, and I hope I can leave my mark as soon as possible.”

Adu, who turns 15 on June 2, signed a $1million deal earlier this year with Nike. In 2000, he turned down a $1million offer from Italian club Inter Milan after starring with the U.S. Olympic Development Program team in an under-14 tournament against some Italian powerhouses.

At August’s under-17 world championship in Finland, Adu scored four goals and showed his ability to play on an international level. But under FIFA rules, players can’t sign contracts outside the countries in which they have citizenship before they turn 18.

That meant Adu had only two choices — MLS or Ghana, from which his family emigrated to the Washington area in 1997. He became an American citizen earlier this year.

“It was pretty certain that he would be unable to play in any capacity with foreign clubs and be perhaps four years before he plays in any games,” said Dan Segal, Adu’s Bethesda-based agent. “He would not even be allowed to train with reserve teams because of his age.”

Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Barcelona were among the teams interested in his services.

Adu is attending high school and training at U.S. Soccer’s residency camp in Bradenton, Fla. Adu likely won’t join United until he completes his schoolwork in late May or June.

Rookies didn’t see much action for United coach Ray Hudson this season. Highly touted defender David Stokes and midfielder Brian Carroll did not appear in any MLS games in 2003. Goalkeeper Doug Warren was forced into action only when starter Nick Rimando was lost for the season with a knee injury Sept.25. And forward Alecko Eskandarian, the top pick overall in last year’s MLS Draft, started just five games and played a total of 728 minutes.

Adu, who has trained on and off with United the past two seasons, made it known months ago he would play only for United if he signed with MLS so he could live with his family. During his infrequent training sessions with the team, Adu held his own against United’s bigger, older and more experienced players but never dominated the pitch like he does against his own age group.

Thomas Rongen, the U.S. under-20 national team coach, left Adu off the team competing for FIFA’s World Youth Championship from Nov.27 to Dec.19 in the United Arab Emirates, perhaps signaling the gifted striker may not be ready for the next level yet.

“We think this was really a bold choice for him,” Segal said. “He could have stayed in the shadows for years and never get to test his reputation against players in games. This way, he’s taking the challenge head on.”

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