- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Maybe Freddy Adu deserves all the hype after all.

Eleven minutes into his debut, soccer’s 14-year-old phenom scored his first professional goal last night in D.C. United’s preseason game against the A-League’s Charleston Battery in the inaugural Carolina Challenge Cup. United won 2-1.

However, Adu’s brilliance was lost on the citizens of South Carolina, who failed to sell out 5,000-seat Blackbaud Stadium. To them he was more like Freddy Who.

It may take awhile before Adu excites folks in soccer outposts like South Carolina, but it’s a good bet the teenage millionaire and Major League Soccer’s youngest and highest-paid player will do so.

He certainly has the talent. And he showed it on his goal.

Adu started the second half, coming on for forward Ronald Cerritos. When Adu was announced, the previously listless crowd gave him a loud ovation. It didn’t take him long to get the spectators clapping again.

In the 56th minute, United midfielder Dema Kovalenko crossed to Adu inside the 18-yard box. Adu trapped Kovalenko’s cross with his left foot, one-touched the ball around former United defender Mark Watson and finished from 8 yards out to the left corner to give United a 1-0 lead. The goal was just the third goal in eight preseason games for United.

“I was trying to prove something out there, and thank God I did,” Adu said. “[The goal] was very important for me. It gives me a lot of confidence and also helps the team out. We haven’t gotten a lot of goals in the preseason. Hopefully, this jump-starts us offensively.”

Adu displayed the ball skills that made him so desirable to some of world soccer’s biggest clubs, his pinpoint passes finding plenty of United runners. And when defenders swarmed around him, he never lost the ball.

Adu joined United on Friday night after completing his high school course work in Bradenton, Fla., where he was living at U.S. Soccer’s camp. Most people graduate from high school at 18, but Adu took his last exam Friday and now holds the equivalent of a GED.

After the game, a throng of children chanted “Freddy, Freddy, Freddy” outside United’s locker room. Most were just a few years younger than Adu.

“I don’t want to get too caught up in it, but I have to say this is a great feeling,” Adu said. “It just makes me feel you’re doing something right that people, I guess, admire you in a way. I don’t want it get to a point where by I’m too caught up in it and I go out there on the field trying to please the crowd, so to speak. No, that’s not me. I’m out there to help the team win, and that’s the bottom line.”

Now that he’s played in his first professional game, the next question about Adu is what position he will play. Peter Nowak, United’s first-year coach, believes Adu’s best position is as a central attacking midfielder. That’s contrary to popular opinion that Adu will play as a left-flank midfielder this season.

“We’re not going to make Freddy average and put him on the wing [where] he’s going to disappear,” Nowak said. “We want to make sure we’re going to utilize his strengths. We’re going to put him where it’s the best for Freddy — the position where he played for the Under-17 and U-20 teams. I expect him to be the Freddy Adu that he was with the U-17s.”

The 5-foot-8, 140-pound Adu played as an outright striker for the U-17s. In last night’s game, Adu drifted in and out of United’s midfield, pretty much playing where he wanted.

The future of American soccer received a scare when he was tackled hard in the 81st minute by goonish Dane defender Andreas Bechmann. Bechmann was sent off by referee Ricardo Salazar The penalty on Adu set up Bobby Convey’s game-winning 25-yard free kick.

“I think he did great,” Convey said of Adu. “He came in, he has confidence in himself, it’s a good boost for us. I just hope he stays injury free and we play well together. It’s a good thing to have someone that knows where you’re going.”

Having Adu with the team full time makes it easier for United to prepare for its nationally televised MLS opener against the defending champion San Jose Earthquakes on April 3.

“Just having the complete team together is really important, having everybody in,” defender Brandon Prideaux said. “Freddy is just like any one of the guys. We want everybody to be with us so we can work on things on the field. It’s really important to our development as a team and to him personally.”

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