Happiness is a warm reception in Philadelphia for Adu

CHESTER, Pa. – In his first MLS game since 2007, Freddy Adu didn’t score a goal, notch an assist or do anything jaw-dropping.

But for a 22-year-old who’s been through so much on and off the field, Saturday’s game at PPL Park still marked a near-perfect Philadelphia Union debut.

“There’s nothing better,” Adu said following Philly’s 2-2 draw with FC Dallas, “than being a professional athlete in America, man.”

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The fans that packed PPL Park to capacity for Saturday’s showdown against one of the best teams in the Western Conference certainly reciprocated the same kind of love, shaking the stadium with applause when Adu was announced as a starter.

Adu had said during his introductory press conference that coming out of the tunnel would be secondary to winning the game; but the attacker certainly felt plenty of emotions pumping through his blood right before kickoff.

“It was awesome,” Adu said. “It brought back a lot of memories when I first came into the league with DC. Philly fans are great, man.”

Once the game began, Adu was able to hold his emotions in check, putting in a workmanlike 62 minutes and helping the Union earn a well-deserved point against a strong Dallas squad.

Adu didn’t have too many touches overall but that, many of his teammates said after the game, was probably to be expected.

“I think he’s still trying to find his feet and place on the team,” said defender Danny Califf, who knows Adu from their US national team days. “There were flashes of him that were really good and really encouraging. But I think it’s tough to judge him on one training and one game. I think he was really excited and he really wanted to make an impression. It’s tough sometimes to play when you feel like you have to do something extraordinary.”

Adu agreed with that assessment, saying it was good to get the first game out of the way.

“When you have one training session with the team before you play, it’s hard,” Adu said. “But I’ve got to get on the same page obviously and we have to move on from this. We’ve got a great team, man. Once we all get on the same page, I think we’re going to be very difficult to beat.”

Playing in an attacking role, Adu showed his set-piece ability with some solid corner kicks and free kicks. He emerged as more of a threat in the second half when he opened up the field with some long, seeing-eye through-balls from the left side.

“Before, back in my teenage years – which was like a couple of years ago – I was always sort of trying to force things,” Adu said. “Today, I just wanted to sort of let the game come to me a little bit. And it did. And I was more dangerous, more active in the second half.”

Perhaps the most important thing for Adu, though, was not what he did on the field but simply the fact that he was on the field. It’s been a long, hard road back to MLS - and now that he’s here, he’s ready to embrace it.

“When I’m happy, I play my best soccer,” Adu said. “And right now I’m really happy to be here.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.