What Will it Take to Get Freddy Adu to Return to MLS?

Yesterday’s news that U.S. midfielder Freddy Adu is set to go on loan to second-division Turkish side Rizespor is the latest chapter in the former prodigy’s not-so-excellent European adventure.

As we noted here, since Benfica purchased him in 2007, Adu has had trials in Switzerland (with Sion), Denmark (Randers FC) and Germany (Ingolstadt), and gone on loan to France (Monaco), Greece (Aris) and now Turkey.

That’s six teams in three and a half years. Not what he pictured happening when he signed with the famous Portugese club, which holds his rights through 2012.

Before we continue, let’s take a look at where all the Adu hype came from in the first place. How did he get to be U.S. soccer’s Golden Child, the player signed by DC United in 2003 at the age of 14?

Here’s one example, from the 2003 U-17 World Cup (Adu was 14 at the time):

And several more, from the 2007 U-20 World Cup (after which Benfica paid MLS $2 million for the 17-year-old Adu):

Clearly, the hype didn’t materialize out of thin air; Adu was legit—and not too long ago.

So what happened?

We wish we knew, but of the multiple players on display in that Poland clip, the ones who shine brightest—Adu, Danny Szetela, and Sal Zizzo—have seen their careers plateau for various reasons, while others (Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Colorado Rapids left back Anthony Wallace) have found varying degrees of success.

Szetela battled problems in his personal life and is out of the game altogether.

Zizzo was snapped up by Bundesliga side Hannover 96 after that U-20 championship, but suffered an ACL injury in 2009 and eventually returned to the U.S., joining Chivas USA late last season. This year will be a big one for him.

As for Adu, our theory is threefold: 1. As suggested by the way he bristled under the strong leadership of DC coach Peter Nowak in his early MLS days, Adu may not have the head to succeed at the highest levels. 2. His speed and quickness, which were deadly at the youth level, have leveled off and are no longer assets among senior players. 3. His strength—well, see No. 2.

The good news is that Adu, like Altidore—who’s currently fighting for playing time at Spanish side Villareal—is only 21.

It just seems like he’s older, because he started in MLS nearly eight years ago.

We say it’s time for him to return to the U.S. domestic league in a last-ditch effort to salvage his career.

It’ll never happen—his asking price and the league’s would be miles apart, and his pride (this is a player who said his goal is to be “the best ever”) would not tolerate such a tail-between-the-legs development (returning, for less money, to the scene of his heavily hyped start).

But it would be the best thing for him.

MLS is better than when he left it, and it’s certainly a bona fide proving ground for players with top-flight aspirations. Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Brad Friedel are just a few of the many players who cut their teeth in MLS and went on to European success.

Beyond that, it’s better than the Turkish second division.

These elements, along with the prospect of regular playing time in his home country under the frequent gaze of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, should be enough to lure the onetime savior of U.S. soccer back to his home country.

Of course, they won’t be.

If his track record is any indication, Adu will explore his options in Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands, and San Marino before returning Stateside.

Bradley on Verge of Villa Loan Deal

Aston Villa, a Premier League club with American ownership (Randy Lerner) and three American players on its books (Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj), is poised to add a third Yank, Michael Bradley, who has been a starter at Bundesliga club Borussia Moenchengladbach since 2008.

Bradley is of course the son of U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, who was rumored to be joining the Villans himself—as head coach—just last summer.

That story turned out to be more rumor than fact, but the reports involving 23-year-old Michael have the ring of truth. ESPN and others have reported that the young Bradley is in Birmingham, taking a physical in advance of processing the paperwork to make the loan official.

The deal will last until the end of the current Premier League season, when it could evolve into a permanent contract, depending on how well the U.S. workhorse does.

With the recent arrival of Jermaine Jones at Blackburn, we could see both of the U.S.’s first-choice central midfielders starting in the Premier League in the coming weeks, along with other U.S. midfielders Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey.

But Bradley will have competition for a starting spot at Villa, which recently added Cameroonian Jean Makoun to a midfield corps that includes Englishman Nigel Reo Coker and Stiliyan Petrov of Bulgaria, the Villans’ captain.

Hot Time In Red Bull Town Tonight

The Red Bulls announced the signing of 19-year-old defender Sacir Hot today, making the former academy product their fourth Homegrown Player (after Giorgi Chirgadze, Juan Agudelo, and Matt Kassel, who inked a deal on Tuesday).

Hot played two seasons at Boston College after leaving the Red Bulls academy, and was on trial recently with Borussia Moenchengladbach (former New York midfielder Michael Bradley’s club, though maybe not for long*) and Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga.

Moenchengladbach was reportedly very interested in acquiring the US U-20 national teamer, but he ultimately decided to sign closer to home (Hot is from Fair Lawn, NJ) and with the club that developed him.

* More on that shortly.

Onyewu Injury: Nothing Salome Can’t Fix with A Backrub

U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu left FC Twente’s Dutch Cup quarterfinal against PSV Eindhoven after just 25 minutes on Wednesday, prompting American fans to wonder if the snakebitten centerback was due for another extended spell on the sidelines.

Onyewu, 28, ruptured his patellar tendon in October 2009, not long after signing with Italian giants AC Milan. He missed the remainder of the 2009-10 season while rehabbing the injury, and had been unable to crack the Milan first team so far in 2010-11.

On Jan. 11, he was loaned to Twente, making his first competitive club appearance in more than a year on Jan. 19 against Heracles.

When he left Wednesday’s game, just his third with Twente, so prematurely, it seemed his bad luck had returned.

But yesterday came news that the injury was relatively minor:  a tweaked muscle between his ribs, according to reporter Avi Creditor, who spoke to Gooch on Thursday.

All he needs is a few days off, some rest–and some light massage from his tantalizing Persian wife, Salome.

It could be a lot, lot worse.

What’s Cooler Here, Zakuani’s Stinging 22-Yard Strike, or the Super Slo-Mo?

Here’s Sounders FC winger Steve Zakuani crushing one from distance past (what looks to us like) Seattle backup keeper Terry Boss during a preseason scrimmage yesterday.

It was captured in super slo-mo by SoundersFC.com. Nice work, gents:

Great touch to set himself up, and then he just puts his foot through it. Little to no spin on the ball = evidence of said ball having been hit well and truly….

Thierry Henry’s Knee: “Not there yet ….”

We came across the above quote in this ostensibly positive account of Thierry Henry’s first preseason camp with the Red Bulls, who opened training in Waldwick, N.J., this week.

We were breezing along, reading about how the 33-year-old striker is determined to help “finally bring that trophy that New York never won,” when we came across the following assessment of the knee injury that kept him out of the stretch run in 2010:

“[It’s] better, way better; not there yet to strike the ball too hard, but it’s hopefully something that’s in the past and hopefully will stay in the past—it’s way better.”

We dropped a Sheila Broflovski–style “What-what-what?!” when we read that.

Not there yet to strike the ball hard? Hopefully in the past? Hopefully will stay in the past?

None of that sounds very convincing, or, um, hopeful—or good for Red Bulls fans.

Henry has had nearly 12 weeks off (not counting his training stint with Arsenal in London last week). He could have had surgery on his injured knee and been in the above condition by now. How is he not 100% healthy?

If we were gambling types, we’d bet there’s more to this story than we’ve been told.

And the longer this sort of thing keeps up, the closer Henry’s MLS career comes to being Beckham-esque—minus the English icon’s far-reaching PR boost.

Ronaldinho Will Do As He Pleases with A Ball at His Feet, Thank You Very Much

We’ve often thought about the similarities between golf and soccer. In both games, players drive the ball, curl it, and chip it—and the act of putting in golf is comparable to the basic side-foot pass in soccer (in fact, the coach at our first soccer camp used that very analogy to teach us basic passing technique).

The comparison cropped up again when we saw this clip of former LA Galaxy transfer target and Brazilian legend Ronaldinho casually executing soccer’s version of a draw—curling the ball and imparting enough spin to score from behind the goal.

Check it out:

He gets bonus points on the last two for one-timing a moving ball and still accomplishing the feat.

Galaxy Signs 16-Year-Old Academy Player Jack McBean

The Los Angeles Galaxy announced the signing of former Corona del Mar High School sophomore and Galaxy academy product Jack McBean today, making the six-foot target striker the fourth-youngest player ever to sign with MLS.

McBean is currently with the U.S. Under-17 team in Jamaica, preparing for next month’s CONCACAF U-17 championship, which will determine the region’s representatives in the U-17 World Cup (Mexico, June 18-July 10). He will join the Galaxy’s preseason camp following the U-17 qualifiers, and become the club’s second Homegrown Player after Tristan Bowen, whom LA traded in December.

With MLS rosters expanding from 24 to 30 this season (and the reintroduction of the Reserve Division), there’s a good chance that McBean will stick with the club in 2011.

“He is strong with his back to the goal and athletically good at 16,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, according to the Orange County Register. “[But] we don’t get any bonus point for playing 16-, 17-, 18-year-old players, so he is now with the men.  We’ll see how that adds up in our environment.”

Chivas USA Lands New Shirt Sponsor

The number of MLS teams with jersey sponsorship deals rose to 12 today with the announcement by Chivas USA that it had sealed a multiyear contract with Grupo Modelo, producers of Corona Extra beer, whose logo will appear on the Goats shirts starting in the 2011 season.

No word yet on whether or not each Chivas player will have to learn this trick.

Here is an updated list of the teams that have gotten brands to sign on with the Good Ship MLS:

Chivas USA: Corona Extra

DC United: Volkswagen

Houston Dynamo: Greenstar Recycling

Los Angeles Galaxy: Herbalife

New York Red Bulls: Red Bull

Philadelphia Union: Bimbo

Portland Timbers: Alaska Airlines

Real Salt Lake: Xango

San Jose Earthquakes: Amway

Seattle Sounders: XBOX

Toronto FC: BMO

Vancouver Whitecaps: Bell

Which U.S. Newbies Should Go to Cairo on Feb. 9?

We’ve said it before, but after this past Saturday’s friendly against Chile, it bears repeating: no two observers of a U.S. national team game will come away with the same impression.

Take a look at the player ratings here, here, here, and here to get an idea of what we mean.

One observer called central midfielder Dax McCarty “Xavi light” (a huge reach), while another said he was industrious but inconsistent (closer to reality). There were also notably mixed reviews for Zach Loyd, Brek Shea, Mikkel Diskerud and Sean Franklin.

The only players who drew a consensus in the postgame breakdowns were Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, and Tim Ream—and on the negative side, Marvell Wynne.

Just to add to the Tower of Babel of analysis, we happen to disagree on those last two.

Ream had a good game, and he started the play that led to the U.S. equalizer, but, as often happens when he plays with New York (we watched every game last season), he seemingly made one dangerous giveaway for every two pinpoint passes out of the back.

He made two howlers on Saturday, and on the second one, he was bailed out by … everyone’s whipping boy, Marvell Wynne.

Wynne was unanimously dismissed following his debut at center-back (he’d previously played out wide for the U.S.), but we would still leave the door open for this player if we were in charge. He wasn’t as lost versus Chile as critics claimed, and his athleticism is completely off the charts. If he improves his positioning and reading of the game, he can contribute for the U.S.

In any event, only a few of the players from the Chile match (if any) will be a part of the U.S. squad when it faces reigning African champions Egypt on Feb 9 in Cairo.

That’s a FIFA international fixture date, so coach Bob Bradley will have access to all of his foreign-based first-team players. (Sidenote: how will in-form midfielder Stuart Holden fit into that one? Not to mention recent Blackburn Man-of-the-Match Jermaine Jones.)

Which youngsters will he choose to integrate into his first-choice squad? If he takes any at all, this is how we see it breaking down:


Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream

The U.S. coach is known for bringing along youngsters slowly, but considering the U.S.’s thinness at forward, he might include the 18-year-old Agudelo and see how he mixes with the first-choice veterans.

Ream is older (23) and clearly has the potential to succeed the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit in the center of defense. It’s doubtful that any of those three will be with the U.S. come Brazil 2014.


Teal Bunbury

Along with Agudelo (and a handful of designated players), Bunbury will be one of the most interesting players to watch in MLS this season. He came on very strong at the end of last year, and carried the momentum into an offseason of a lifetime (goalfest in Spain with the Generation adidas team, national-team debut, first national-team goal, and Pablo Ramirez–aided YouTube fame).

Mikkel Diskerud

He wasn’t great against Chile, but may have been ill-suited to his first-half role. When Agudelo and Bunbury came in to give the U.S. two strikers, Mix livened up and looked more effective. The U.S. needs players with his Feilhaber-esque skill and creativity.


Zach Loyd

He doesn’t even start for FC Dallas (though that could change this year), so it may be a reach to tab him for a full international against the African champions. But Loyd is competing for the left-back position, where the U.S. hasn’t had a completely reliable option for years. He was overexcited at times versus Chile, but he’s highly athletic and made some impressive plays on Saturday. Don’t count him out.