- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2006

After two topsy-turvy seasons as a pro, Freddy Adu says he finally is “figuring it all out.”

Just what the 16-year-old D.C. United phenom has discovered is not clear, but he says he hasn’t “felt this good in a long time.”

Adu will be closely watched today as United opens its 11th MLS season against the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium.

With midfielder Dema Kovalenko gone and veteran striker Jamie Moreno reaching his twilight years, the time is right for Adu to make his mark on the league. The word around the club is that a lot will hinge on Adu’s performance this season.

“He’s interacting with teammates better,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “It’s important for him to read the game and know his responsibilities.”

Adu likely will receive more freedom on the field from his coach in order to make penetrating runs on the left flank.

“I just need to play my game,” Adu said. “I haven’t played my game in the first two seasons I have been here. There have been a lot of restrictions, but there are none this year.”

The team has been experimenting with its backline formation, going from three defenders to four defenders at times in order to accommodate Adu’s runs. Midfielder Josh Gros likely will fall back and help shore up the defense to allow Adu more attacking freedom.

Perhaps more important, Adu says he feels “less pressure” this year.

“There can never be more pressure than that first year,” he said.

In his first season, at the age of 14, he was thrown into a frying pan of media hype and struggled to live up to it. He did play in every game, often off the bench, and notched five goals on a championship team. Last year, in his sophomore season, he battled Nowak over playing time and was suspended for a playoff game. Now he says he’s more relaxed and “having fun.”

But Nowak subtly warns that the game is about more than just having fun.

“Freddy realizes the game can be fun, but it’s all about winning and all about the team,” Nowak said. “If you are winning, it’s always fun. I never hear Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho or [Lionel] Messi saying they are playing for fun. They are playing for success and the championship.”

Adu says he has grown, especially from his experience with the U.S. national team camp in January.

“I came back with so much confidence and I improved from being around those guys,” he said.

Adu knows that if he puts in a stellar performance in United’s five games this month, he just might — and this is a stretch — make Bruce Arena’s World Cup team, or at least be one of the 10 alternates Arena will name. Overseas clubs are also watching his progress.

Adu will take on United’s playmaker role today in the absence of Argentine midfielder Christian Gomez who is suspended after receiving a red card in the club’s last game in 2005 for spitting at an opponent.

With Gomez out, there’s a chance that draftee midfielder Justin Moose, who has been impressive in training, could start today, or at least come off the bench. New defender Devon McTavish also has impressed the coaching staff.

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