Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
“I was told essentially that I was going to be given the keys to the car and in my opinion that really hasn’t been the case. When I came, I thought I was going to have more of a central role with the team, and I’ve been playing on the [outside midfield] ever since I’ve came here. I don’t mind it, it’s just not what I was told,” Freddy Adu said in late August.
Confirming what most already suspected, Freddy Adu thought he was going to be the Union’s offensive savior by default. And, to be fair, the young midfielder’s expectations were only delusional to a point.
Yes, the Union needed offensive help. But no, they were not without other options. And on the strength of his 2011 resume, it was Michael Farfan who was wheelman when the Union took the field against Portland in March. Few could argue that the Union’s dazzling young star had earned his chance. Despite being given the same role that was reviving his reputation at the international level, Freddy Adu wandered the right sideline looking every bit a talented yet selfish player with the defensive workrate of a sleepy Carlos Ruiz.
In other words, he was living up to expectations.
In November 2011, Adu used the magic of a “wonderful old bistro” and a nicoise salad to convince ESPN’s Leander Schaerlaeckens that it wasn’t Adu’s fault his European adventure had been more Landon Donovan than Clint Dempsey. Blaming a collection of situational variables, Adu managed to prove with mathematical certainty that the stateside detour in his plan to play in England or Spain by age 25 was due to uncontrollable interference. And it’s true that coaching changes and less than ideal situations (or moving to Arsenal if you’re a striker) often stall the careers of players who otherwise appear ready to break out.
The difference for Adu is that there has never been any evidence to suggest he is a star. His best performances have consistently come in short bursts as a member of the US U-21 team, and they’ve never been as the centerpiece of teams that overachieve. In other words, Freddy Adu is not—and has not been—a difference-maker.
But when you say you expect to be in England by age 25, a difference-maker is exactly what you think you are.
Unfortunately, the games in which Freddy Adu made a positive difference in 2012 can be counted on one hand.
1. At Chivas USA, April 21. Adu cheekily backheeled the winner past a hapless Chivas defense after Michael Farfan’s absurd dribble-drive created havoc in the box. Despite scoring the winner, however, Adu was left off MLSsoccer.com’s stars of the game list in favor of Farfan, whose ball skills and “tireless defense” were highlighted.
2. Vs. New York, May 13. A spectacular first half performance came to an end after 43 minutes when Adu was sent off with his second yellow card of the match. It was a poor, poor call by Jorge Gonzalez, but Adu’s 5th minute tackle to earn the first card was just as silly. Adu’s creative abilities were on full display, and his sumptuous cross set up the Union’s first tally (when Lio Pajoy can score off your cross, you know it was a good one). The “Freddy Adu, Superstar” musical was prepping for Broadway by the time Kenny Cooper put the Red Bulls ahead for good in this one.
3.Vs. Toronto, July 8. The Union were rampant against a listless Toronto side, and Adu was at the heart of it all. He scored the second and put the Canadian defense under constant pressure.
4. Vs. New England, September 1. In a game so bad television cameras begged their operators to shut them down to end the misery, Adu was active and involved. His three shots and one shot on target were both his second-highest totals for the season.
5. Vs. Houston, September 23. Led by Raymon Gaddis, the Union smacked around a normally-stout Houston defense. Adu produced a fine near post finish and drilled home a penalty before leaving with an injury.
At no other time was Freddy Adu more than an overpaid set piece specialist for the Philadelphia Union in 2012. And, to be honest, number four is a bit of a stretch. Calling anybody who participated in that September 1 match a contributor is on par with calling any tweet, cough or rumor you hear a news story.
Three goals from open play, only one against a team that wasn’t redecorating the bottom floor of their conference in preparation for a long stay. And that statistic doesn’t do justice to how disappointing Adu’s 2012 season was. John Hackworth brought in a 4-3-3 that moved Adu up the field into the exact spot he excelled in at the international level. Adu’s response was quotes like the one that opened this article and enough locker room mayhem to fuel sky-is-falling reports from Philly.com.
It pretty much has to be that first half performance in New York, right? There were quite a few “…is this about to be a high point?” moments, but, much like how you feel when it turns out the pretty girl’s boyfriend is sitting at the barstool behind you, those moments usually led to swift returns to Earth.
It has to be his absence from the final two matches of the season. The KC omission was dubbed a mysterious “coach’s decision.” The New York one was tied to the aforementioned reports that Adu was a locker room disruption and wouldn’t work in this town again. For a player who promised to be a young leader, captained some of his Union teammates on the U-21 national team, and thought combining “I’m only 23” and “so much experience” was on par with combining whiskey and coke for the first time, being anything less than a leader was unacceptable.
…He’s only 23…
He isn’t getting better. And yes, sigh, he’s only 23. But any other player with seven years of experience—including a run in Europe—would be expected to show maturity and consistency. Adu has (slightly, but significantly) improved his defense, he moves well when he wants to, and he can pick out a sweet pass on those rare occasions when his eyes aren’t admiring the flash of his Adidas during a stepover. But maturity and consistency have never been features of Freddy Adu’s game.
And they are every bit as absent now as the day he joined MLS as a 14-year-old.
In England or Spain by age 25? Unlikely. Unless it’s in a non-soccer capacity.
All signs suggest it’s time for Freddy Adu to move on from Philadelphia. The Union have a young core to build around, and Adu’s price tag and personal ambition don’t seem to mesh well with a team-first philosophy. There are certainly some MLS teams that could handle his contract and wouldn’t mind the added press coverage that comes from adding Adu’s name to the roster (though even Adu’s most ardent supporters/apologists have to be wondering how many clothes their emperor is really wearing at this point).
It’s impossible to tell where Adu will spend his time in 2013. While it’s easy to bash his play, little is known about how badly Adu’s relationship with the team has been damaged. If he’s still a Union player next season, it’s hard to imagine him playing a major role. As one of the last vestiges of the Nowak regime that the team wants to pretend never happened, Freddy Adu is deceiving himself if he believes he isn’t tied to his first professional coach at the hip in the minds of many.
It’s most likely Freddy Adu will be taking whatever keys he already has, putting them into the ignition of his own car, and driving on to the next stop on his journeyman’s career. He has the talent to be a professional soccer player, but at this point little more is clear.
One certainty is that three years from now somebody will be sitting down with Freddy Adu for lunch at something like a gloriously baroque pub. They will ask him whether it’s finally time to say that he didn’t live up to the hype. Adu will say: I’m only 25.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards