- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Maybe Freddy’s not ready after all.

Six games into D.C. United’s season, 14-year-old Freddy Adu has found the going tough in the grown-up world of Major League Soccer. He has been pushed around, appeared confused and failed to make an impact commensurate with the fanfare that accompanied his entry to the league last month.

Adu said he underestimated the talent level of MLS.

“I did. I did. And that’s what I’m [getting] punished for right now,” Adu said. “I did underestimate it, and I certainly wasn’t ready at the beginning and I’m still trying to catch up. I’m playing catch-up right now, and that’s my fault.”

Tactically, Adu has struggled. At times, he doesn’t seem to be working in concert with the rest of the team going toward goal.

Adu has started United’s past two games, but he probably will return to the bench for Saturday’s home match against the Kansas City Wizards after his uninspired performance in last Saturday’s 1-1 tie against the last-place Columbus Crew.

“He’s trying to get a rhythm and trying to understand his spacing,” United forward Jaime Moreno said. “Coming from where he came from is totally different than playThat view is held by opposing players, as well.

“A lot of people looked at him and said that he would come in and destroy the league,” said C.J. Brown, an All-Star defender with the Chicago Fire. “This league is not as soft and weak as people think it is. If a 14-year-old can tear this league up, then we shouldn’t be professionals.”

Brown should know. He was yellow-carded for a hard tackle on Adu at the top of the box in the Fire’s 1-0 win over United on April24 at RFK Stadium.

“I don’t hit him any harder than anybody else,” Brown said. “I don’t hit him harder than [Los Angeles’] Carlos Ruiz or Jaime Moreno. Playing him at forward is going to get him hurt. Playing with his back to goal, he’s not the biggest. And nobody in this league wants to be that ESPN highlight when he scores a goal. Nobody wants to be that guy.”

Adu, from Potomac, was the top pick in January’s draft. He became the youngest player ever to sign with MLS. And with a base salary of $500,000, he is the highest-paid player in the league. That’s made him something of a marked man.

Now first-year United coach Peter Nowak has a dilemma: Does he sacrifice wins to appease the masses who want to see Adu play or does he keep Adu on the bench and allow him to mature slowly — a decision that would go against the wishes of just about everybody in the American soccer community and officials in the league office?

“He needs experience and experience comes with minutes,” Nowak said.

Adu has been a godsend for the league in many ways. Adu and United are easily the largest road draw in MLS, averaging 25,362 a game — nearly 8,000 more than the runner-up Colorado Rapids.

The raised global profile that Adu has given the 9-year-old league benefits all its players. For an adolescent who will turn 15 in a little more than two weeks, he’s pretty good for his age. The 5-foot-8, 140-pounder has scored one goal.

“It’s tough for him because throughout his career people have been telling him, ‘You’re the best, you’re the best,’” United captain Ryan Nelsen said. “Now, he’s coming up against a group of guys who defend better than he attacks. It’s kind of a rude awakening to realize that [he’s] really got to improve and got to not do this.

“The defenders are way better than what he’s ever come across. You put him against the Under-17 Columbus Crew team, he’ll absolutely take the stuff right out of them.”

Adu conceded that he has not played well.

“I just don’t feel that I’ve made a lot of impact, to be honest,” Adu said. “I’ve been out there, I’ve been playing, but it just feels like it’s harder for the team because the defenses are playing a lot harder, or something like that, to shut us down.

“But I’ve been able to open up some lanes for the guys when I come back and get the ball, and it opens the lanes up for the midfielders to make their runs through. That’s what I would say is the impact that I’ve had.”

Off the field, it’s a different story.

Adu already has made a positive return on his contract — for MLS — with his television appearances and other endorsements. In a recent Sierra Mist commercial, Adu teams up with Pele pushing the lemon-lime soda.

“Pretty soon the whole thing will die down,” Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. “It’s something no one expected. It’s early and it begs interest because it’s front-page news. Sooner or later, people will have to get back to the league.”

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