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Monday, January 21, 2013

Adu's Philly depature a tale of great expectations

“He certainly didn’t meet the very lofty expectations that were placed on him within our team.” 
 John Hackworth

In a sentence, whether he intended to or not, the Union manager got to the heart of the Freddy Adu saga Monday.

Freddy Adu in a Union shirt is a thing of the past. (Times File)

The Union and the enigmatic attacker announced an end to their year-and-a-half relationship, with Adu persona non grata at training camp and the Union actively shopping the 23-year-old attacking midfielder.

To summarize briefly, the Union presented new contract terms under which they would consider bringing Adu back, ones more in line with the type of production (seven goals and one assist in 37 matches) featured in his second stint in MLS. Adu chose not to take the pay-cut, bringing the teams to an impasse as they search for a new destination for the attacking midfielder. The decision has been several months in the making, and Hackworth is adamant in that the door is closed to a return.

There are a variety of reasons behind the departure. Hackworth admitted that Adu posed “a little bit” of a selection problem with how he integrated to the team’s tactics. To those ends, Adu often looked lost, drifting on the left wing through long stretches without possession. Painting him as a selfish player may be a bit harsh, but he’s a technically-gifted player whose best position is as a central-operating midfielder and whose work rate can suffer if he’s not seeing enough of the ball. With Hackworth moving to a 4-3-3 formation, opportunities for him to occupy that role are even scarcer.

The Union weren’t horrible with Adu in the side, going 9-9-7 in his 25 starts for the club – and it should be noted that the three-game losing streak that saw them finish the regular season in 2011 and get booted from the playoffs came with Adu appearing as a sub in each game. In 2012, though, the club was a measly 2-6-0 when Adu played the full 90 minutes, including a winless span of almost three months in such games.

The factors were stacked up against him. Not only was he a vestige of the Peter Nowak era, he was more intimately tied to the former manager than most from their days at D.C. United. It isn’t just that he’s stopped producing at a level warranting designated-player status; the arrivals of Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey alleviated the need for a big name, and the development of Antoine Hoppenot and Jack McInerney erased openings for him to play on the wings of the attacking triumvirate. Hackworth alluded to the popular argument that Adu’s numbers look poorer thanks to a lack of finishing by his teammates, but that notion is undercut by the Union’s offseason focus on restocking its wide players through the draft and other acquisitions.

The price was almost the least of what wasn’t right when it came to Adu.

It may be difficult to move his weighty contract within MLS, but an international suitor may materialize in the week remaining in the international transfer window.

It’s likely that as he has before, Adu will find himself on a team few have heard of in a country few can find on the map. Let me join what I hope to be the majority opinion in professing optimism that there are bright days ahead for Adu, who lest we forget is still just 23, even if he’s nearing a decade in the professional ranks. The problems he’s faced are not all his doing. He’s an atypical American player in terms of his technical skill – while it’s not completely the same, there are some parallels in the plight of American international Sasha Klejstan and his quest to have his gifts recognized. Wedging him into the Union’s setup was going to be dicey at best last year with a five-man midfield; this year’s projected three-man unit would’ve been even more difficult for him to find footing in.

But the most daunting thing with which Adu has to cope are the expectations that Hackworth alluded to earlier. He has been good, not great, in three MLS destinations. He has failed to catch on in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the Greek Super League and France’s Ligue 1, competitions in the second tier of Europe. He’s not a superstar, and as long as he’s going to be compensated as and expected to be one, he may be hindered from reaching his full potential, the apex of which no one has yet seemed to identify.

Here’s hoping that the next pasture is as green as this one was once thought to be.

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