- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Ray Hudson will know his fate after the Thanksgiving weekend. The D.C. United coach, whose two-year contract with club expires next month, is negotiating to stay another season.

The signs don’t look good for Hudson.

The coach was not invited to the media love fest this week in New York City, where 14-year-old Freddy Adu signed a multimillion dollar contract with Major League Soccer and was allocated to United. When was the last time a major player was assigned to United without the coach being present to hand him a jersey?

“It was a league affair — I have no concerns,” Hudson said.

Hudson, 48, will attend the MLS Cup in Carson, Calif., tomorrow and then spend Thanksgiving at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before returning to the area for a decision on his job from Kevin Payne, who oversees United for AEG Soccer.

The addition of Adu, whose news conference drew a media barrage not seen since Pele signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975, adds a twist to the United coaching job and possibly Hudson’s future.

With Adu now with United, some are questioning whether Hudson is the right man to guide the boy wonder who could bring MLS a major cash windfall down the road if he is transferred to an overseas club.

Will Hudson be the sacrificial lamb of this “monumental” deal. And will the United coach, whoever he is, be pressured to play a 14-year-old, something unheard of in the rest of the soccer world? Even the great Diego Maradona was limited to juggling balls at halftime when he was 14. Pele made his first pro start when he was 16.

Hudson believes he has an affinity with Adu because he, too, signed a professional contract when he was young. Hudson joined English First Division club Newcastle United at 16 and made his debut a year later.

The United coach suggested a note of caution over the Adu signing, saying, “Let’s not forget Freddy is still a young, developing boy. He’s been playing go-kart football, and now he’s getting into formula one football.”

Hudson presumed Adu would arrive in May with the season already rolling, but Adu said he would join the club in March before the season kicks off. That’s when he expects to complete his high school studies at Edison Learning Center In Bradenton, Fla.

Which begs the question: Is Adu a wizard at schoolwork, too? Is this kid so exceptional he can graduate from high school at 14? I mean, shouldn’t a 14-year-old be in school, or am I missing something here? And what about the District’s child labor laws? Are kids allowed to pick up a paycheck at 14?

“D.C. United will nurse him along and polish the jewel he is,” Hudson said. “But this is a delicate set of circumstances. You don’t want to hold him too close to the light too soon.”

Adu, a 5-foot-8, 140-pound striker, reminds Hudson of the great South African midfielder Ace Ntsoelengoe, who played for the Minnesota Kicks in the North American Soccer League.

“Hey, maybe we should nickname Freddy ‘Ace,’” Hudson said.

The D.C. United coach, who has come under some criticism for failing to give youngsters playing time, defended his methods, noting that assistant coach John Trask has an excellent record of working with young players at Indiana University, which produced Pat Noonan, Chris Klein and Nick Garcia, all stars in MLS.

MLS Notes — The league finally got its playoff format right this year. The two best teams in the regular season — the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes — advanced to the final in dramatic fashion.

The two-game home-and-away conference semifinal series and the one-game conference final seem to have proved the best format. But can tomorrow’s final at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., live up to the high drama of the playoffs? Last year’s final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New England was a dud. The only action was the winning goal from Carlos Ruiz. However, this year’s affair may have the ingredients to be a stunner. …

Kansas City Wizards midfielder Preki became the first two-time MLS MVP winner in league history as he captured the 2003 award yesterday six years after his first honor in 1997.

Corner kicks — American World Cup star Clint Mathis, who is now a free agent after four years with the MetroStars, will be heading to Scotland next week for a week’s trial with Glasgow Rangers.

Manchester United may be preparing for another triumphant tour of America, but its world rival, Spanish giant Real Madrid, has a long-term vision to conquer America. According to a report in the Times of London, Real, which signed superstar David Beckham in the summer, has prepared a six-year plan, called the “Final Frontier,” in its quest to win a share of the American market. Part of the plan is to buy a franchise in MLS based in Miami to woo Hispanic fans.

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