- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

BRADENTON, Fla. — Freddy Adu sat on a golf cart, fiddling with his cell phone and waiting for the start of his first professional practice.

“You’d think they would have called me,” the 14-year-old soccer phenom said as a joke yesterday.

Adu’s first official day on the job for D.C. United began with nearly an hour wait for his teammates. It ended with the first pick in last month’s MLS draft pulling a water cooler away from the 75-minute workout.

“I’m the new guy. I’m going to do that. If I don’t do it, I know I’m going to hear from the guys,” Adu said.

“But really, that’s just stuff you’ve got to do. No matter who you are, you don’t think you’re bigger than anybody else. It’s a team thing. You go in, you’re a rookie, you do all that stuff. I’m not complaining. Whatever it takes to help the team out, I’ll do it.”

The 5-foot-8, 140-pound forward walked to the workout at IMG Academy, where he has been living for the past two years while attending school and training with the U.S. under-17 national team. He waited patiently for the rest of United to arrive in three large vans after flying to Florida.

Coach Peter Nowak and assistant Tommy Soehn were the first to greet Adu, who signed a six-year contract that will pay him about $500,000 annually. They met in the middle of the field, where Adu was alone, stretching and listening to music.

Practice was scheduled to begin at 4p.m. but was pushed back an hour to give the players an opportunity to settle into condominiums that will house them during a two-week stay.

Adu, who in the past has trained with D.C. United informally, was anxious to get started after struggling in the morning to stay focused in the classroom.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he said. “Now it’s finally here, and I just wanted to kick it off right. I was stretching the whole time. And I never stretch. But I was thinking, I’ve got to be ready. I got out there and everything went great.”

Adu, who will graduate from high school next month, will become the youngest player in MLS history if he gets on the field this season. He immigrated to the United States from Ghana in 1997 and became a U.S. citizen last February.

Three reporters, two photographers and a handful of curious onlookers watched the workout on a field adjacent to where another MLS team, the MetroStars, were practicing. More media members are expected tomorrow, when D.C. United will scrimmage against the U.S. men’s national team.

D.C. United has invited a number of nonroster players to Florida for the first part of spring training, according to team spokesman Doug Hicks. Familiar faces include forward Jaime Moreno, who played on United clubs from 1996 to 2002, and goalkeeper Clint Baumstark, a part-time addition to last year’s team. Goalkeeper Tony Perkins, midfielder Erik Cronkrite, forward Anthony Modeste and midfielder David Topolski also will participate in training this week.

Several other players will join the club after finishing Olympic qualifying duty in Mexico. Forward Alecko Eskandarian notched his first hat trick at the international level in helping the U.S. under-23 national team defeat Honduras 4-3 on Saturday in an Olympic qualifier.

The under-23 team plays Mexico tonight, with the winner clinching a berth to the Athens Olympics.

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