- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

CHARLESTON, S.C. — After his first game as a professional, Freddy Adu already may have proved himself D.C. United’s best forward.

Eleven minutes into his professional debut, the 14-year-old from Potomac found the back of the net and played a major role in United’s other score in the club’s 2-1 preseason win over the A-League’s Charleston Battery at Blackbaud Stadium in the inaugural four-team Carolina Challenge Cup.

Granted, Adu scored his first goal against minor league competition, but coming into Saturday’s match, United had scored just two in goals in seven preseason contests.

When the lightning-quick Adu entered the game to start the second half, the field suddenly opened up and United’s offense started flowing.

“Hopefully, I can keep doing the same things from here on out,” Adu said. “It gives me a little bit of confidence so I can keep playing and basically feel free to keep myself out there on the field.”

United’s other forwards are plagued by injuries (Santino Quaranta, Eliseo Quintanilla and Thiago Martins) or inexperience (Alecko Eskandarian), and three are on the downside of their careers (Earnie Stewart, Jaime Moreno and Ronald Cerritos). That could leave Adu at the top of the group.

While Adu is young, he has plenty of experience. He has starred for the U.S. under-17 and under-20 national teams and lived the past 2 years in Bradenton, Fla., at U.S. Soccer’s exclusive residency camp.

That pedigree — plus his status as Major League Soccer’s youngest and highest-paid player — has left him a target, something of which Adu is aware. For instance, late in Saturday’s game, the Battery’s Andreas Bechmann took Adu down from behind on a reckless tackle at the top of the box.

Referee Ricardo Salazar sent off Bechmann for the dangerous play, leaving the Battery a man down. The foul set up Bobby Convey’s game-winning goal on a 25-yard free kick.

“In Bradenton, I told the guys before every practice to be rough on me,” Adu said. “I told my teammates to help me out by being really rough, grabbing my jersey, giving me little knocks and stuff, and they did that. So that helped me to get used to it in a way that I can survive in a game like that.”

Part of the downfall of United’s last coach, Ray Hudson, was his inability to acquire a finisher, leaving United perennially at the bottom of MLS in goals.

As a result, his replacement, Peter Nowak, said he isn’t going to waste Adu’s talent as a flank midfielder. If Adu scores consistently, there’s no reason for him to play wide. Plus, Adu’s tendency to attack could cause some defensive problems if he plays on a wing, putting additional pressure on United’s three-man backline in Nowak’s preferred 3-5-2 alignment.

Convey, who entered MLS as a highly touted 16-year-old, understood the challenges in store for his young teammate this season.

“Just keep it fun, do whatever it takes to keep it fun and just enjoy yourself,” Convey said. “Whatever you’re going to do is going to come naturally. When you are young, you’re just out there kind of doing what you’ve always done when you were little. As you play more games, you get more experience and learn when to run, when to rest, when to take a foul, when to do a whole bunch of things.”

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