The Curious Case of Freddy Adu

The majority of people think of the story of Freddy Adu as a rise and fall, but his story is still in the making. If you truly read between the lines, Freddy Adu has remained steadfast in his journey, and has never given up on the sport that he loves so much. What hurt Adu was Don Garber, Ray Hudson and MLS. Not his ability to play.

It’s very easy to look at Adu as a one hit wonder. He is the youngest athlete to to sign a professional contract in the United States by going to DC United. Two weeks after signing, he scored his first goal, becoming the youngest goal scorer in MLS history. People thought MLS had discovered the next Pele, and that they found their savior for the USMNT. It was soon discovered that we were just having a fever dream caused by the MLS public relations department.

Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

Since that first goal, Adu has played for thirteen teams in eight different countries: the United States, Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia and Finland.

  1. 2004-2006: D.C. United (MLS, USA)
  2. 2007: Real Salt Lake(MLS, USA)
  3. 2007-2011: Benfica (Primeira Liga, Portugal)
  4. 2008-2009: LOAN AS Monaco (Ligue 1, France)
  5. 2009: LOAN Belenenses (Primeira Liga, Portugal)
  6. 2010: LOAN Aris (Gamma Ethniki, Greece)
  7. 2011: LOAN Çaykur Rizespor (Süper Lig, Turkey)
  8. 2011-2013: Philadelphia Union(MLS, USA)
  9. 2013: Bahia (Série B, Brazil)
  10. 2014: Jagodina (Serbian SuperLiga, Serbia)
  11. 2015: KuPS (Veikkausliiga, Finland)
  12. 2015: LOAN KuFU-98 (Kolmonen, Finland)
  13. 2015-Present: Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL, USA)

Adu grew up in the port city of Team, in Ghana. He was eight when his mother won the Green Card Lottery, moving the family to Rockville, Maryland. Soon after becoming a citizen in 2003, Adu was discovered by a local soccer coach and began playing with boys older than him, which led him to the U.S. Olympic Development Program, playing in the U-14 tournament. This tournament got Adu noticed; his team won the tournament and he was the leading scorer and named MVP.

Source: Flickr

In 2003, MLS was nowhere near what is today. People weren’t watching it on TV, attending the games, and most American sports fans had never even heard of the league. Peak attendance at the time was 13,000 (64% less than 2015), and the money brought in was not attracting the star talent needed to improve the league. At this time, Don Garber has only been the commissioner for a few short years since leaving the NFL. He wants to do something big to get everyone’s attention. He catches wind of Freddy Adu, and he thinks JACKPOT! It’s a young kid achieving the American Dream, IN MY LEAUGE.

With the way the MLS Draft works, allocation and salary caps, Mike Jeffries and the Dallas Burn (now F.C. Dallas) had first dibs on Adu, but a deal was quickly made to allow Adu to play close to home, giving D.C. United the opportunity to sign him. Jeffries ended up singing Clarence Goodson, who ended up having a better career both club and national than Adu.

Having already signed with Ray Hudson’s D.C. United two months in advance, Adu became the first player selected in the 2004 MLS Super Draft. He made his first club appearance as a substitute against San Jose Earthquakes in the second half, and two weeks later scored his first goal against the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls). His first season under Hudson wasn’t spectacular, but then again, he was only 14 years old. It was obvious to everyone that he was too young to be playing professionally, and that he needed more time to develop physically, but more importantly, mentally.

No doubt that Ray Hudson saw talent in young Freddy Adu, but you can’t help but think that his arm was twisted to sign him by Don Garber to get some much-needed media attention on the league. Garber wouldn’t pull another bullshit move like this until the signing of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy in 2007.

After United, Adu was traded along with teammate Nick Rimando to Real Salt Lake in exchange for goalkeeper Jay Nolly. Salt Lake got the better end of the deal alone by getting Rimando. Adu did better under the direction of Jason Kreis. He got the minutes in to get him ready to captain the U-20 USMNT in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where actually made an impressive showing. After just one year at Salt Lake, Adu said peace out to America and joined the Portuguese side Benfica.

Source: Flickr

This was the second mistake Adu made in his career. Everyone thinks that getting the offer to play in Europe will do them wonders, but in reality, it has a better chance of just hurting your career and having you come back to the MLS with your tail between your legs. Adu thought he had made it by having his European debut be in the first half of the Champions League in Benfica’s match against Copenhagen. Poor Freddy didn’t stand a chance to see regular playing time with Ángel Di María owning the midfield and David Luiz and Fàbio Coentrão supporting him on defense.

After 11 appearances for Benfica, Adu began his long journey of loans. This would be the part in the book you would just skip, because nothing really happens and it’s just sad. The cliff notes version of this story would say that it was a boy with broken dreams playing a man’s game. He had the physical talent, but mentally, Adu couldn’t play the chess game that is required on the pitch.

Benifca loaned out Adu to four different teams, where he only made 28 appearances between 2008-2011. It was a dark time. Though Adu was selected for the national team for the Gold Cup, he did not see much playing time during those years. It wasn’t until he went to Turkish second division side Çaykur Rizespor in 2011 that Adu started picking up some momentum, which led him to a trade back to the MLS, landing him at the Philadelphia Union with his former coach Pitor Nowak.

Source: Flickr

When Adu came back to MLS, he wasn’t the same player he use to be. His physical traits were all still there, but mentally, Adu wasn’t thinking about he could be the best footballer, he was thinking “how can I be a star again?”

He lost his mental edge.

Adu was soon shipped to Bahia over in Brazil, where he only made two appearance before being let go, and started an unsuccessful series of trials around Europe. You would think after being dropped by so many teams, barely playing on the pitch, that Freddy would give up the dream of being a professional soccer player and call it quits. I think majority of people who have been in this situation do call it quits, and pursue other careers, especially while they are still young. I think at this point in time, Freddy had swallowed the pill of reality, and rather than throwing in the towel, he gave it his all, and just wanted to play.

After his trial period, he landed a contract with Serbian club FK Jagodina. After only making ONE first team appearance, Adu was released and went over to  third division Finish team SC Kufu. Adu exercised his option to terminate his contract, and he found his 12th new home with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL.

We will see how long Adu stays in his new Florida home. Is this his last chance at glory? No, it’s not. His history in the sport tells us that he is not going to give up easily. Anyone that can face that much rejection and still get back up must be crazy and delusional. The definition of a madman is someone who behaves as if they’re insane.


And Freddy Adu must be a madman, because you would to have to be insane to still pursue soccer as your career when everyone tells you to quit.

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