American sports coaches have long used the phrase, Theres
no I in TEAM. As valuable a lesson as exists in those
simple words, the American sports public has always been in
love with its superstars. It has been the individuals who
shone bigger and brighter than those around them that have
vaulted the mainstream sports in America into the multi-billion
dollar industries that they are today.
Every league in the United States has its superstars from
the past that have catapulted their respective popularity.
The NFL had Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown and Joe Namath. The NBA
built its huge following on the shoulders of Magic Johnson,
Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Our national pastime has an
endless assortment of characters who were bigger than the
game itself Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantel,
Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax just to name a few.
Hockey and Gretzky are synonymous.
The true measure of these players greatness came not
only from what they achieved on the field, but the legacies
they left behind and the expanded following of their respective
sports which they helped to create. This following opened
the door for a new and younger generation to pass through,
and an American public salivating at the chance to experience
more and more of it.
So what about soccer? Last summer, more Americans than ever
before stayed up late and watched our boys reach the Quarterfinals
of the worlds biggest sporting event - the World Cup.
It was truly a team effort. Unfortunately, only the most cultured
soccer fans in the U.S. still remember a single players
name. Could this be the reason why soccer in America and its
domestic league MLS have not made the strides necessary to
rival the big four? I happen to think so
America needs a superstar to rally behind, and now, finally,
we may just have one. Enter fourteen-year-old Freddy Adu.
In the true spirit of the American melting pot, Freddy, his
mother, and his brother won a lottery to come to the United
States from Ghana when he was eight-years-old. He grew up
kicking a makeshift ball around barefoot through the dusty
streets with other kids, then came to America and upgraded
to grass fields and cleats. His mother, Emelia Adu, had the
difficult task of working two and three jobs while taking
care of her precocious kids as well. Freddy just wanted to
keep playing soccer.
And he did. Well. By the time young Freddy was just eleven-years-old,
he was playing so far and beyond the kids in his own age bracket
that he was given the opportunity to play with teens sometimes
as much as five or six years older than he. And he still dominated.
His talent level was so high that one of the biggest soccer
clubs in the world, Inter Milan of Italy, offered his mother
a contract of 750,000 dollars for Freddy to come and develop
with their youth academy. She politely turned it down and
told them that Freddy would be best served by staying close
to home with his family.
Since then, Freddy Adu has continued to progress at the U.S.
Soccer Academy in Brandenton, Florida. At the tender age of
thirteen, he became the youngest player ever to wear the United
States jersey in an international event. Now fourteen-years-old,
he is playing with the United States Under 17 National Team
and creating a buzz around the international soccer community
that no American player in history has ever experienced. But
why all the hoopla?
Because Freddy scores goals. Lets face it thats
what the American fan wants. The American sports aficionado
doesnt want to see great saves from a talented goalkeeper.
They dont want to see hard tackles from burly defenders.
What they do want to see is the ball powerfully rocketed past
the opposing goalkeeper at six thousand miles an hour or artistically
chipped over him from twenty yards out. Until now, the United
States has never produced a talent with the potential that
Freddy Adu packs into his right, or left, foot. He plays with
a nose for goal, with the flair to dazzle the crowds, and
the creativity that may just make him a household name in
the States within a very short few years.
The danger, of course, comes from the hype and pressure that
will undoubtedly be forced upon him in the next months. Its
hard to imagine carrying the expectations of a nation at only
fourteen, but thats unfortunately the position he will
Luckily, Freddy seems to have a very good head on his shoulders.
He is humble and without question a team player. Off the field,
he is an astute student and will receive his high school diploma
by next May thanks to exceptional tutelage and his full commitment
to studying and an advanced education.
In short, he is the complete package. Even mega company Nike
has already thrown in its lot with Freddy Adu by way of a
million dollar endorsement deal unheard of for an American
soccer player who has yet to play a professional match. But
that time is coming soon.
The United States Under 17 National Team was recently ousted
at the World Championship in Finland by Brazil in the Quarterfinals.
At the U.S. matches, there were dozens of scouts mainly there
to see Mr. Adu in action and see if the hype matched the product.
Against competition three years his senior, Freddy scored
four goals in four matches and was among the top scorers in
the tournament. Such heralded clubs as Real Madrid and Manchester
United have all expressed serious interest in landing the
young phenom. Major League Soccer is also doing its best to
keep Adu close to home. Although it cannot offer the same
type of money that big European clubs can, they have the benefit
of Adus closeness with his family and Emelias
wish for her son to be within shouting distance. The buzz
for an American soccer player has never been so great.
Nor has the pressure. Freddy Adu has stated his intentions
very clearly: I want to win a World Cup with the United
As evidenced by the results of the World Championship, its
going to take a lot more than just Freddy alone for the United
States to one day hold the most coveted sports trophy in the
world. But if Freddy Adu reaches the great heights that so
many expect of him, its a sure bet that a great number
of American kids will take off the shoulder pads, leave the
mitt at home, or put the basketball back in the closet and
emulate their new hero on a big, grassy field, or even in
the backyard with an old shirt as one goalpost and a bag of
Doritos for the other.
As a pure soccer fan, I want nothing more than to see Freddy
Adu play soccer right here in the United States for a few
years before heading off to Europe for the real big bucks.
It might be just the shot in the arm that America needs and
may one day help to make soccer in the United States THE place
to play for all the big superstars. Of course, winning that
World Cup one day might not be too bad either.