Freddy Adu - the first ten years

A tad short of two millennia ago, some dude asked, "What is truth?"  This week, we had our answer.

Because the only thing more reassuring than a contract less than a season's length is letting that contract lapse mid-season.

And thus slams another door in the Freddy Adu story.  Before we go literally another sentence further, it's important to note that Freddy himself has one serious regret:

We've seen a lot of Adu from ages 14-24, and I at least can guarantee that he was a nicer and more fun person than I was at those ages.  (I'm awesome now, though.)  He's also been pursuing his dream a lot longer than a lot of people pursue theirs.  I have trouble ascribing his failure to any character flaws on his part.

I also feel bad for calling his career a failure so far, but he's out of contract.  This is the part of the movie where the hero is at Act II, and the audience is wondering how he will get out of this predicament.

But this is real life - maybe he won't.  If it were a crime to not be good enough to be a professional soccer player, there would be a crapload of plea-bargaining in the world.  Sadly, we're American soccer fans, so we're going to treat it as a crime.

When Grant Wahl asked Don Garber about his regrets a while back, Garber forgot or neglected to mention how MLS handled Freddy Adu's introduction to pro soccer.  For those of you who either weren't there or have successfully managed to repress those memories - Garber and MLS put the golden goose in the Cuisinart and hit "puree."  It would have been a shameful performance on behalf of a player of age.  It would have been a shameful performance had Adu turned out to be God's little brother.  It would have been a shameful performance if it had been on behalf of David Beckham - which of course was exactly what happened.

In the terribly minor defense of MLS, he was put on a team close to his home, close to his mother, and under the charge of a highly-respected hard-nosed former player.  Now, of course, we know that Peter Nowak was just a horrible choice to put in charge of the biggest prospect in American history.  And in retrospect, while Adu appeared in every game, one wonders how much of that was really Nowak's decision. 

But someone should have told Freddy not to try to buy Alecko Eskandarian's jersey number.  Somebody, perhaps somebody whose name rhymes with and is spelled exactly the same as "Don Garber," should have resisted the urge to put him on the All-Star Team.  And whoever was responsible for the Adu v. Pele commercial is hopefully undergoing penance as we speak.

Perhaps one of the real turning points in Adu's career was DC signing Christian Gomez, who promptly led United to its fourth title.  Adu and Nowak were champions, which only in hindsight looks confusing and disturbing.  No one suspected both of them were on their way to helping make the Philadelphia Union what they are today.

Now is probably a good time to remind people that Freddy Adu was not hyped out of nowhere.  Adu was one of the very brightest stars in the 2007 U-20 World Cup, putting a performance that reminded everyone how seriously he outclassed his peer group during his teens. 

It also might be a good time to remind people that another star in that tournament was Adu's teammate, Danny Szetela.  When calling Adu a disappointment and a bust, it's worth noting that as of the end of 2014, Adu has never had a mug shot taken. 

I hope to heaven Adu finally finds a spot, either on a club or in life.  If, for no other reason, that we just seem incapable of coping with the fact that sometimes a youth team star doesn't make it in the pros. 

The people who really need to take responsibility for what happened to Freddy Adu?  The ones that no one have even suggested are at fault?  The ones who have not only done this to Adu, but have done it to players before him, and will continue to do so in the future?

After all, it was you and me.

Nobody put guns to our heads and forced us to buy in.  Nobody held our families hostage.  Nobody extorted us into following a teenager's every move.  Garber and Adu and Nowak and MLS sponsors all have varying skills, abilities, virtues and flaws, but none of them can control minds.  We did this to ourselves. 

Fortunately, we have learned nothing.  You would think Freddy would have taught us that this fixation on youth is a bad look - think of the really, really diehard pageant fan in "Little Miss Sunshine."  But no.  We're still dying to know when we will produce the next Messi. 

Even that question is revealing, and not in a good way.  Messi isn't tearing up La Liga nearly as much as Cristiano Ronaldo.  So why aren't people asking the US to produce the next Cristiano Ronaldo?  Because our team finished ahead of his team in the World Cup.  Or since this is a youth development obsession, why haven't people asked us to produce the next Neymar?  Gosh, I don't know, but the people that produced the current Neymar couldn't produce eleven other guys that could avoid international disgrace against Germany, and we could, just throwing that out there. 

Asking when we will produce the next Messi is like asking when Corsica will produce the next Napoleon.  There's only one reason you frame so broad a question in those terms - you're looking for someone to blame.  It's an accusation.  Where is our Messi?  Where is our Pele?  Where are our flying cars?  We were promised jetpacks!

There's no dumber way to approach American soccer.  However, perhaps a close second is looking at athletes in other sports and asking why they didn't choose soccer.  But the prophecy foretold one who would bring balance to the Force, so by God we're going to look under every helmet until we find him.  I swear to God, if I never hear the name "Beckham" in connection with soccer again, it'll be too soon.

That's the real lesson of Freddy Adu.  We have to have a messiah.  And if we can't find a messiah, we can damn sure find a scapegoat.

Happy New Year, Freddy.  Here's to a joyous and prosperous 2015 and beyond.