Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
If we could put an ear up to Freddy Adu and listen to his inner voice, what would we hear?
A supreme confidence, no doubt. And who can blame Adu for being a confident young man? For all the hype, there have always been doubters. A fourteen year old has to shield himself from the fear somehow.
But more important for Union fans: Would Adu be thinking about his play? Would he recognize what he has become?
Freddy Adu, at 22 years old, has seen the game has pass him by.
A stationary dribbler
Barely able to drink and Adu is already a throwback. While other young players were raised to be the post-Ronaldinho generation—passing, passing, passing, moving—Adu was already mixing with the big boys, honing his stepovers and holding the ball until the perfect run presented itself.
On Sunday, Kyle Martino warbled that Freddy Adu was at his best running at defenders with confidence. But Freddy Adu doesn’t do this. He creeps towards defenders like a spider hunting hobbits. And in the same way Frodo was oblivious to the war brewing as he traveled, Adu is tuned out to the game around him.
Ball control and a good cross. Speed? Only if the other players are in an instant replay. So why would Freddy Adu want to run at people? How many players in all of MLS can consistently beat their defender one-on-one so consistently that an isolation play is beneficial to the team?
The Union only have one, and it’s not Freddy Adu.
Instead, the young midfielder’s skills suggest he should be a distributor. A quick, efficient one at that, with an eye for switching fields or finding the occasional Hollywood through ball. Adu’s model should be David Beckham, not Brek Shea.
Beckham’s first thought is always to get rid of the ball. If he takes a while, it’s to find a better pass, not to take someone on. Watch a Galaxy match, and observe the movement off the ball when Beckham looks up. Everybody knows that the right run will get them picked out and on their way.
Now watch a Union match. See the hesitating, staccato runs when Adu has the ball. Will he look up this time? Or will he listen to the Wormtongue in his ear, telling him he’s at his best dribbling at defenders? We all know the answer to these questions.
The final flaw
Adu has never flourished in that midfield distributor role because he lacks tactical discipline. Defensive midfielders require one thing of the creator: Be predictable. On defense, retreat to your zone, push play the right way, and—sweet sassy molassy—don’t turn the ball over in the middle. A creator earns that title by being that much better than everyone else with the ball. He allows the rest of the team to cheat a little: Fullbacks push higher, holding middies come square, strikers stretch a defense.
In short, since everyone trusts the creator to keep the ball, they take chances.
Adu does lose the ball in midfield. Additionally, he has not shown interest in being a team player on defense. His one start in the middle this year saw him pushing up to the defensive line, leaving a gap so large that it could have been a metaphor for the gulf between Adu’s salary and that of the team’s regular contributors.
So he can’t play centrally. And he can’t be a traditional winger. This is why Adu has been pushed wide, but only flourished when defenders back off and let him play balls into the middle. It worked fairly well for him on the U-23 team. But MLS defenders are a headstrong breed, and they come at a full gallop. Thus, time and again, Adu leaves the field in the 63rd minute with a single free kick, or one extended dribbling display his only legacy.
Change has to come
So Freddy: Ignore the Martinos who tell you to take people on. Forget Rigby’s keys to the game, that suggest you need the ball early and often. This isn’t your show.
You are not driving this train. Michael Farfan is.
You can, however, be the fuel that makes the train hit top speed. Move the ball quickly. Work hard, hard, to find space for yourself off the ball. Not running in behind, but wide or moving inside. Anywhere you can go that will let you pick your head up and find McInerney or Hoppenot streaking through. All you need is a moment to pick out the Sheanomenon up the wing.
But that has to be your goal: Get the ball, get rid of it. Do it with more length and precision than others can.
You are not the player you think you are.
But you can be a very good one. Contemporary soccer is about ball movement. It’s the style your coach embraces. It’s the style of your generation.
The next wave of kids, today’s fourteen-year-olds, may be learning how to play in a post-Xavi system. One of them might spearhead the next evolutionary step in soccer’s development. But the current game belongs to the quick pass, the team movement, and the creator who, more than anything else, keeps the ball moving.
Can you figure that out? Or, at 22 years old, are you too much a part of the Ronaldinho generation to adapt?
If we could listen to your inner voice, would we hear a stubborn insistence on “playing your game,” or a true soccer mind unafraid to speak the truth?
We can’t really hear what you’re thinking. So you have to show us.