- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It’s not easy being Freddy Adu - depending on the location.

When he played in Major League Soccer, Adu was a big star in a small-profile league. When Adu moved to Europe, he found that getting noticed wasn’t easy.

The former D.C. United star and Potomac resident returned to his old stomping grounds this week, training with the U.S. team for Wednesday’s game against Honduras at RFK Stadium.

Adu hopes a good performance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup will earn him playing time on his club in Portugal and book him a spot on a U.S. team that is likely to advance to the World Cup next year.

“Going to Europe opens your eyes,” Adu said. “Once you get to Europe, you are just another young player regardless of how famous [you are] or how much you earn.”

Adu joined United in 2004 at the age of 14, becoming the league’s highest-paid player, its brightest new face and a media sensation.

He debuted for United as the youngest athlete in modern American sports to sign a professional contract. His entry into the league attracted the breathless attention and a level of hype rarely seen in a game that’s often an afterthought in U.S. sports.

Adu played in every game his first season, helping United win its fourth championship. Still, the player hailed in some quarters as “the new Pele” had an uncomfortable relationship with his coach and a career with United that wasn’t quite satisfying.

The club traded Adu to Real Salt Lake in December 2006, and seven months later he left Salt Lake to join Portuguese giant Benfica. He scored two goals in 11 league games for Benfica and was loaned to French club AS Monaco last season but struggled to get into the lineup.

Adu is back at Benfica, but his future is unclear. The lack of first-team action has hindered his career on the U.S. national team. Adu made the roster for the Confederations Cup in South Africa last month, but he watched from the bench as the Americans upset Spain, then lost in the final to Brazil.

“The team had a great run, and I was part of something really special,” Adu said. “You can choose to pout about [being on the bench], or you can choose to be a professional and work hard. I choose to be a professional.”

Adu, who turned 20 last month, no longer is the cocky teenager who signed with United. He’s more reflective and says he is working harder to be a true professional.

“When I first got to Benfica I was playing and scored some goals,” Adu said. “Then we had a coaching change, and it hits you real quick. You have to work for your place all over again. Going through that has made me a much stronger person and a much better player at the same time. … I’m taking training much more seriously than back in the day when decisions went my way.”

Adu is now getting a chance to shine at the Gold Cup. He played the entire game against Grenada on Saturday at Qwest Field in Seattle and opened the scoring in the 4-0 win, his second goal in 14 games for the senior team.

He said his performance in Seattle made news in Portugal.

“They do watch, they do watch,” Adu said. “This could be a chance for me. Maybe the coach [at Benfica] could say, ‘This kid’s doing well, he’s not completely out of form and maybe I’ll take a look at him when he gets back.’ ”

Adu gets another chance to impress when the U.S. team faces Honduras at RFK.

The teams last played at RFK in 2001 in a World Cup qualifier, a 3-2 U.S. loss before a pro-Honduras crowd. A crowd of 20,000-plus is expected for Wednesday’s game. Grenada will play Haiti at 7 p.m. before the United States kicks off at 9 p.m.

The Gold Cup determines the champion of the North and Central America and Caribbean region.

The Americans finish off group play against Haiti at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday. The top two teams from the three groups and the two best third-place teams advance to the quarterfinals.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley is looking for two things from his team in this event: a defense of its Gold Cup title and preparation for the giant World Cup qualifier at Mexico on Aug. 12. No U.S. team has won in Mexico.

Bradley also sees the Honduras match as a good chance for Adu but cautioned that he needs to find first-team soccer at the club level.

“It’s been hard for him with his club teams, and it’s very difficult when you’re not playing regularly to come in and perform at the level we played in South Africa,” Bradley said. “So in the last game, I think it was a good opportunity for him.”

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