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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Formally bidding Freddy adieu

The image could be haunting.

It seems such a distant memory, the before picture to John Hackworth’s high-achieving after. The portrait of Freddy Adu and Peter Nowak, gleefully mugging for the camera, once signaled the hope of the Philadelphia Union.

Behind them stood the logo of a team that seemed to be figuring out this whole MLS thing, flourishing in its second season with the playoffs on the horizon. Adu’s acquisition, with his undeniable if yet underrealized talent, would take them over the top, as MLS Cup contenders and a team that was more than just an overachieving band of nobodies.

Just over 20 months later, both are gone, Adu’s departure to Brazilian side Bahia being made official Monday. And the Union are, against most odds, much better off.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Adu’s production on the field failed to live up to the expectations. In 35 MLS matches with the Union, he recorded seven goals and two assists. It’s the same goal total as from his meanderings through Portugal, France, Greece and Turkey (43 matches).

Debunked were a number of theories popularized on his arrival. His shortcomings didn’t stem from a lack of game action, as was the case in the four years he struggled to get a foot into the squad at Benfica. He was also the focal point of the attack in a disastrous 2012 season, one whose causes admittedly extend behind Adu.

Perhaps Adu can find footballing peace in Brazil. In many ways, he’s free of the expectations that so dogged him through Europe. The American-superstar-to-Europe path is well trodden, and a move to a low-profile outpost in the far reaches of the continent wouldn’t have done him much good now.

Brazil presents the potential for a soccer nirvana. It’s an upgrade over MLS in terms of worldwide profile and prestige, not to mention getting Adu out of his home-country spotlight that proved not to be the boon he’d hope to seek refuge in two years ago.

Stylistically, Brazil may also be to his liking. While MLS has come a long way, it’s still very much system-based, a necessity for getting the most out of the talent available. You could argue that Portugal offered the kind of “joga bonito” that would’ve benefitted Adu, but the game, of any beauty, is difficult to control from the bench.

ESPN blogger James Young does a nice job detailing Adu’s journey and its benefits for both player and club. He points out several important facets: The Brazilian emphasis on one-on-one play, the importance of beautiful football rather than the coldly-calculated, blue-collar reputation in MLS, the lack of defensive responsibility for attacking players like Adu.

But perhaps most important is the fact that he’s just another phenom there. It seems that yearly a new crop of talents in their teens rise to the international scene only to move to some odd, billionaire-backed destination off the beaten path in Europe and fizzle after a few years – or more recently, opt to stay at home until the international interest subsides.

The ability to perhaps capture that ever elusive consistency may even put him back into the national team picture, where Jurgen Klinsmann – whatever the myriad controversies – has shown a desire to integrate not only more technically-gifted players like Sasha Klejstan but also players in Latin American leagues (see the four players on Mexican clubs included in the current roster).

Where the European journey for America’s best and brightest is a familiar path, Adu is striking out on his own. It’s a fitting next chapter for a player of such skill and promise that few in American soccer circles knew what to make of him or how to harness his talent.

Heading to Brazil is certainly the path less traveled; time will tell if that will make any difference.

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