Freddy Adu was once known as a fourteen-year-old prodigy. More recently, he is regarded by some as a worldwide washout. But to others, such as myself, he means a great deal more.
The Adu Tag
When a young player with great potential is hyped to the point that whatever he does with his career is overshadowed by his former promise, thus inviting the conclusion the player is a washout.
Freddy Adu was supposed to be "the next Pele", the next big thing, the future of US soccer. Except, that future is now: Adu is 25. And he hasn't been attached to a US club since 2013 and hasn't had a national team appearance since 2011.
In the early 2000’s, Adu was the equivalent Martin Odegaard, Hachim Mastour, or Alen Halilovic. Odegaard and Halilovic made their professional debuts as teenagers, and Mastour has been tipped to break into AC Milan's first team for almost a year now. But none of them was playing competitive pro matches at 14.
Adu did: his first league game for D.C. United was on April 3, 2004; his first goal came against the MetroStars on April 17, 2004. He turned 15 on June 2 of that year.
Since then, in 11 years as a pro, Freddy Adu has played professional soccer for clubs in Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia, and now Finland. In total, he's played for 11 teams in those 11 years. He has traveled around the world, played for globally-recognized soccer institutions such as AS Monaco and Benfica, as well as three MLS teams (DC, RSL and the Union). And when you change clubs that frequently, without great achievement at any of them, you attract the wrong sort of headlines, and get tagged one of football’s great flops.
But I don’t think you’re a flop, Freddy. Sure, you haven't been the greatest player on the pitch in your career to date, but you certainly don’t deserve the bad press you have received.
Adu put up modest numbers in his stints in MLS, but they weren't awful: 133 regular season appearances, 19 goals, 21 assists. He averaged 0.20 goals per 90 minutes played, converting 9.6% of his scoring chances.
Those aren't elite numbers: Landon Donovan, the sort of all-around attacking talent it was hoped Adu would become, averaged 0.45 goals per 90 minutes, and converted 20.4% of his scoring chances. Donovan also averaged 0.42 assists per 90 minutes played in MLS regular season appearances; Adu's career MLS regular season assists average is 0.22 per 90 minutes.
Basically, Donovan was about twice as effective as Adu by the more obvious statistical measures of attacking impact. Of course, the majority of Adu's MLS appearances happened before his 18th birthday, and Donovan didn't get loaned to MLS until he was 18, but it's still fair to say that Adu's numbers in the league are underwhelming if the standard is "Pele".
Freddy's MLS stats just aren't that big a deal: 134 regular season appearances, 18 goals, 17 assists; 0.15 goals per 90 minutes; 0.14 assists per 90 minutes; 9.3% scoring chance conversion. Wait...sorry, those are Darlington Nagbe's career numbers as of April 23, 2014.
Let's try that again: 97 appearances; 17 goals, 19 assists; 0.22 goals and 0.25 assists per 90 minutes; 8.9% of scoring chances converted. Oops...those numbers belong to Kelyn Rowe.
One more time: 114 regular season appearances; 23 goals, 18 assists; 0.25 goals and 0.19 assists per 90 minutes; 11.4% scoring chance conversion. Dammit...those are the MLS regular season career stats of Fabian Castillo.
Castillo (22 years old), Nagbe (24) and Rowe (23) are among the more exciting attacking players in MLS. Their numbers don't compare to washout like Adu (who was 23 the last time he played in the league).
Except, of course, they do compare.
As previously stated, Adu tallied 133 regular season appearances, 19 goals and 21 assists at an average of 0.20 goals and 0.22 assists per 90 minutes. He converted 9.6% of scoring chances.
And right now, he is 25 years old. He wasn't a terrible player in MLS, he just wasn't Pele. Or even Landon. But from the age of 14 to 18, and again from 22 to 23, he turned in statistics entirely comparable to those associated with some of the best young attacking players currently in the league.
And it's possible he did that without knowing enough about himself and his profession to really be producing his best. We tend not to expect teenage soccer players to be at the peak of their abilities.
He is not the only American in Finland's top flight: 27-year-old Jordan Seabrook (once attached to Harrisburg City Islanders) was among his most recent opponents; 26-year-old Stephen McCarthy, formerly of New England Revolution, is one of his teammates.
But Adu is one of the higher-profile American players in Finland. I think he should be one of the higher-profile American players in an American league.
So why does a player like Freddy Adu play in Finland instead of at home in the United States?
For most players, the reason they play anywhere is the money. For Freddy, is it still for the money? According to Adu, it is not. He was brought to KuPS by his agency as they suggested it would be a good fit for him. Adu wanted to just play somewhere he could start and simply play for the love of the game.
As he states in the video below, if he went to a large team, he might not be able to play regularly. So, how can he improve at a larger club if he can not play? He chose to go to KuPS because he believes it will make him a better footballer because he will be able to have a chance at being in the starting eleven each week. Did he really have to travel all the way to Finland to get a game?
Growing up, some may not know Freddy Adu and his family were not exactly well off. Taking a listen to some of his interviews, he has stated his family had it rough from a young age. When he was offered a multi-million dollar contract at the age of 14, he decided to turn professional instead of getting a full ride at the collegiate level:
"What most people don't know is that I decided to go pro because my family was real poor and you know, at that point my mom's, she was a single mother, working two jobs, three jobs and...what am I gonna do? Say no to millions of dollars, at that age, while my family's struggling? No."
But 11 years past 2004, if he really just wants to play for the love of the game, why travel to the Veikkausliiga in order to do so? Tomas Rongen was offering to underpay him at Tampa Bay Rowdies as recently as this March.
It seems to me Adu may still be in search of the money, but can you really blame him? Yet, this is where I believe he makes his mistake. In an interview with Blackpool FC last year, Adu said he decided to play for the US internationally as a way to repay a country that has given him so much. A noble gesture, as Ghana was chasing after him in his younger days. Also, he said that it was important for him to make the right decision in choosing a club. Is playing for a club with a stadium capacity of 4700, where virtually no one from the US or Ghana can watch you play on TV or in person, the right decision? (No offense, Finland.)
That is a question only he can answer. But personally, I wish I could see him play in plain sight without taking a flight to Finland. If even he played for a USL or NASL team, where he would help attract players and fans to growing leagues. Besides the name on the back of the kit, he would bring great play, as well as a face for a club to shape their team around.
Sure, it has been tried before. Sure, it has been tried more than once. Sure, it has repeatedly proven unsuccessful. But at the age of 25, Freddy Adu still has the opportunity to rid himself of the ugly tag the world has made for him: the Adu tag. More importantly, he can change the definition: the Adu tag should mean a player who was once expected to be the world''s best but turned out simply to be better than most.
In order to do this, Adu would of course have to cope with the fact that clubs cannot and should not pay large fees for a player such as himself. He is a good player, but I hope the money he received in his early days has not gone to his head.
He is not the next Pele, he is not US soccer’s new hope, he is a good player whose name and history bring a lot with him. His numbers show this and his style of play shows this as well. But Freddy Adu shouldn’t have to go all the way to Finland to play the beautiful game (nothing against Finland again, by the way). He should be able to make his living in the country where he made his name: the United States. Freddy Adu may have missed his "shot" but he still has the opportunity to help American soccer continue to grow.
A player who has experienced this is Juan Agudelo. Look where he is: back in MLS. He is trying to rebuild his name in the world of football, as great potential sometimes is the greatest burden. He is helping build US soccer by deciding to start in MLS, rather than be a substitute overseas.
Will the same hold true for all young prodigies? Who knows? DeAndre Yedlin is a player with great promise and the opportunity to make a name for himself playing in the EPL. These prodigies of football make a name for themselves out on the pitch at very young ages, hope to make the right decisions, and not become overshadowed by their past. And it is with that, they try and avoid the Adu Tag that afflicts so many.
It is with that said, that I believe Freddy Adu is not a flop. He is a player who has said he has not always made the wisest of decisions come selecting teams. Freddy, you belong in US soccer. Your name, your style of play, your career needs to be here. Sure, maybe your MLS career wasn't the one you and the rest of the world were expecting, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be in this country and that league. Or one of the other American pro leagues.
I think these dribbling skills, nutmeg, and 360 one-touch speak for themselves:
Personally, I want to see Adu playing for an NASL/USL club. The video above, though from a couple years ago, shows what he had and he's young enough for it to be fair to assume he still has it. His numbers are good, he is still young, still learning as a player each day, has years of experience, and is someone an up-and-coming league/team can build their name around.
Maybe an MLS team is not in need for a player like Adu at midfield or forward. But maybe the Carolina Railhawks or Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) would suit him, or even the Richmond Kickers or Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL)? There are 55 clubs between the MLS, NASL, and USL. I believe that if Adu looks past the money aspect of it, there is a fit for him somewhere in US soccer where he can be in a starting lineup each week.
Talk of Adu returning to the MLS and even the NASL surfaced (again) a few months ago in fact. And there was a local connection: the New York York Cosmos. When OaM inquired about the matter, NY Cosmos declined to comment.
Freddy Adu should have many suitors because he combines years of experience with relative youth and the upside that comes from being on the right side of 30. He has played more pro soccer in more places around the world than most American players his age. By coming back with this knowledge, he can better US soccer.
Players always want to travel around the world to play for clubs that attract national attention. But many, end their careers in the place where it started. I hope Freddy Adu follows these players' footsteps, and decides to one day play some more years of soccer in the United States. It is with that said, I say: see you soon, Freddy Adu.
You can watch Freddy Adu play for current club KuPS by flying out to Finland and catching the match. Or, go the less expensive route and follow @KuPS1923_en on Twitter for match updates. If you can't wait until then, here's Adu sporting the number 11 kit in his debut for KuPS, walking out of frame as his teammate scores:
Do you think Freddy Adu deserves another chance in US Soccer? Please don't make me cry in the comments below.