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.