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SOCCER GRAHAME L. JONES

Adu's Story Leads to Fact and Fiction

November 30, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

Imaginary pages torn from the rapidly filling diary of 14-year-old Freddy Adu ...

Nov. 19: Madison Square Garden. All sorts of New York media turn out to hear about my six-year deal with Major League Soccer. Coach [Thomas] Rongen calls later in the day to tell me I've been picked for the under-20 team!

Nov. 20: Fly to Los Angeles, out of the cold and into the warm!

Nov. 21: What a day! First a photo shoot with ESPN the Magazine, then a telephone interview with Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, then meet Shaq in person, then get a courtside seat at Staples Center to see the Lakers beat the Bulls. Awesome!

Nov. 22: All suited up and on stage for the MLS awards gala at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. It's my league now!

Nov. 23: Packed news conference at the Home Depot Center. No tough questions, but some dumb ones! So this is what Landon Donovan puts up with!

Nov. 24: Fly to the United Arab Emirates. A 24-hour trip!

Nov. 25: Join the rest of the U.S. under-20 squad for the FIFA World Youth Championship. My second world championship in one year!

Nov. 27: Thanksgiving Day in Abu Dhabi and a German cook fixes us turkey, mashed potatoes and apple pie, just like home!

Nov. 29: Watching from the substitutes' bench as we come from behind to beat Paraguay, 3-1. Germany is next. Maybe we need a new cook!

Even by Freddy Adu standards, the last 10 days or so have been extraordinary. Even for a teenager who signed a $1-million endorsement contract with Nike in May and who played for the United States in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship in Finland in August, the last two weeks have been a blur.

"My head's spinning right now," he said in answer to one of the Home Depot Center questions -- not one of the dumb ones. "I really can't believe this is all happening. But it's cool. I'm not complaining.

"I think of it as a compliment. If you keep playing well, you're going to keep getting media attention. I enjoy it. I love it. I'm just going to keep playing well."

The problem is, the Freddy Adu media express train has pulled out of the station so fast that it might have left reality back on the platform. The kid is 14. Gifted, yes, but still only 14. Pele wasn't getting this sort of hype at the same age, and yet some already have compared the two.

Fortunately, it hasn't all gone to Adu's head.

"At first I thought it was very cool, really, to be compared to Pele," he said. "I was like, 'Wow. This guy was the greatest player to ever play the sport.'

"Now I've kind of matured. People are going to say stuff. I just don't want to worry about that right now because that would throw me off my game. I just want to play. I'm not playing to please anyone. Obviously, I've been doing something right on the field for people to be comparing me to Pele. If that's the case, then I've got to keep doing it, keep getting better."

Adu and his circle of family and advisors, including agent Richard Motzkin, have settled on MLS as the league where he will accomplish that goal. They rejected European overtures, knowing full well that there will be time enough for a move to England or Italy or Spain or Germany or France or anywhere else that his talents take him.

And so in January, D.C. United will make Adu the No 1 pick in the MLS draft. The club already has announced that fact, having traded a major allocation to the Dallas Burn in exchange for the top pick.

The agreement suited both teams. Dallas will have the opportunity to sign an established big-name player and Adu will have the chance to play for the club he wanted to join. He and his family moved to Potomac, Md., from Ghana in 1997, just at the time when D.C. United was in the midst of winning three MLS titles in four years.

Adu was 8 when he came to America and the Red and Black immediately became his favorite team and RFK Stadium his favorite stadium.

"I've trained with these guys a couple of times," he said of D.C. United. "But now I'm in the team they're going to treat me different. Now it's more of a business. But it's still going to be fun. I'm going in with the intention of gaining my teammates' respect.

"I know I'm going to be the youngest player on the field and I'm going to get stick (grief) for that, but, hey, it happens. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut and just play and have fun."

One of Adu's soccer heroes is Marcel Desailly, the Ghanaian-born defender who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League and who was captain of France when it won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

"I've looked up to him all of my life," Adu said, then paused, realizing how that sounded. "All 14 years of my life," he added amid laughter.

"I hope to be in the position he's in one day -- winning the World Cup and being on one of the best national teams in the world."

Already, there is speculation about whether Adu could possibly make the U.S. team for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He will be 17 then and, as some have pointed out, Pele was only 16 when he helped Brazil win the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

Is Adu even on U.S. Coach Bruce Arena's radar screen?

"I'll just keep playing hard and hopefully I'll do something on the field that would make him interested in calling me up and giving me a shot," Adu said.

"He said he would take care of me. He's a very nice person and as a coach he's awesome. He told me to keep playing, to keep listening to my coaches and not be afraid."

The future for Adu, MLS and U.S. soccer grows more interesting by the day.

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