August 29, 2011

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Freddy Adu makes surprise return to MLS with Philadelphia Union

12 Aug, 2011

By Charles Boehm

Freddy is back.

After wandering through four different European leagues over the past five years, Potomac, Md. product and former D.C. United wunderkind Freddy Adu has decided to continue his career back in the United States and was unveiled as the Philadelphia Union’s newest signing on Friday afternoon.

Adu's international transfer paperwork has been completed and he could be in uniform as early as Saturday night, when the Union host FC Dallas.

“Thanks to everyone welcoming me back,” said Adu on his Twitter feed Friday morning. “I love all of you guys and cannot wait to get started.”

The move reunites the 22-year-old with Peter Nowak, the Polish-born coach who he played under as a lavishly-hyped teenager with United from 2004-2006. It also ends his difficult and nomadic stint with Benfica, the Portuguese club that signed him with great fanfare in 2007 but subsequently shipped him off on loan to sides in France, Greece, Turkey and the Portuguese second division.

After starring for The Heights School and the Bethesda Internationals in his early teenage years, Adu joined the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., then made history as the youngest pro athlete in modern American sports when United drafted him with the first overall pick of the 2004 MLS SuperDraft as a 14-year-old.

But amid sky-high expectations and intense media coverage, Nowak elected to gradually work him up to the professional level, keeping a stern watch on the attacking midfielder’s development and carefully regulating his playing time. While older teammates fumed about the teenager’s team-leading wages and the unprecedented attention he drew, Adu chafed at his limited role, clashing with Nowak on several occasions.

United would go on to win MLS Cup 2004 but Adu’s restless pursuit of a starring role eventually led to a blockbuster trade with Real Salt Lake, where he played for less than a year before joining Benfica. He and Nowak were seen as adversaries, but the duo later worked together on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and Adu has acknowledged that his first pro coach’s tough love was a necessary influence on his headstrong teenage self.

Now, in an intriguing twist, the two men have hitched their near-term career prospects to one another. Nowak’s Union side has become one of the top teams in MLS in only its second year of existence, but has lacked the offensive potency to match its rugged defense. Adu will be expected to add a spark of creativity and create scoring chances for the front line.

Conversely, he needs to prove that he’s ready to put his turbulent past behind him and fulfill the potential that led so many observers to brand him as the future of American soccer when he first burst onto the national scene.

Over the past year Adu carved out a strong run of form with Turkish club Çaykur Rizespor and earned a spot on the United States’ Gold Cup squad, a personal career resurgence that he will need to carry to the next level with the Union.

And D.C.-area fans will want to circle Thursday, Sept. 29 on their calendars: that’s the day Adu faces his former team as United visits PPL Park for their final regular-season meeting of the year with the Union.

+Read the Union's official announcement here ]

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