Adu ends season as crowned prince
The historic first season of D.C. United's teenage superstar Freddy Adu came to a storybook ending Sunday as his club side claimed it's fourth MLS Cup in nine seasons.
The 15-year-old was forced into action late in the game due to an injury to starting striker Alecko Eskandarian, who notched two first-half goals to pace United to a 3-2 win against the Kansas City Wizards. Adu entered the game in the 65th minute and helped United protect their slim one-goal margin.
As D.C. United captured the Cup for the first time since 1999, Adu became the youngest player ever to win a championship in a major U.S. professional team sport, a record previously held Art Houtteman, who won the World Series with Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers in 1945. Adu was unaware that he had broken that record, but he preferred to focus on the team's accomplishments rather than his own.
"I didn't know, I didn't know at all, but thanks for telling me," said Adu. "This is awesome. I don't care what this makes me. All I know is that what this makes me is an MLS Cup champion. At the end of the day I can say, 'Hey, I've won the MLS Cup before,' and that's the best part."
When Adu took the field, the match was very much hanging in the balance. D.C. midfielder Dema Kovalenko had been sent off in the 57th minute after blocking a goal-bound shot from Jimmy Conrad with his hand. When Eskandarian limped off the field with 25 minutes still to play, United coach Peter Nowak immediately looked to the youngster to inject some spirit and hustle into his side.
"It doesn't matter if you play five, 10, 20, 45 minutes or 120 minutes," said Nowak, who captured MLS Cup in his first season as a head coach. "You have to make a difference on the field."
With United a man down and desperately trying to hold on to a slim margin, Adu's chances in the attacking third were limited. However, his presence alone forced the Kansas City defense not to stray too far, the speedy forward always looking like a threat to widen the gap with a quick counterattack.
His best chance to create something came with a surging run down the left flank in the dying minutes, as he whipped around a pair of defenders. But Wizards 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi was quickly off his line to scoop up the ball and eliminate the danger just before Adu arrived.
Adu's role in MLS Cup was quite similar to the one he played in D.C.'s opening game this season, a 2-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium in Washington on April 3. He also served as a second-half substitute in that game, in which United also was protecting a slim lead.
But in between Adu's first match and the last of his rookie campaign, he proved that he does have an amazing ability to change a game, particularly for a player still growing and learning. There was much media hype going in to the season, and Adu suspects that being a part of a championship team will relieve a lot of the pressure that was heaped on him this year.
"I wasn't really trying to live up to any hype or anything," Adu said as he celebrated the win with his teammates. "I still feel like I didn't play to my capabilities. Alecko went through the same thing last year. Next year you guys are going to see a much different player. There are no more excuses, everything's off me now."
Regardless of what happens in 2005, Adu's first professional season will go down as a huge success story. The Ghana-born youngster quelled any doubts that may have circulated about what such a young player could bring to the league. Despite all the media attention, talk show appearances and skepticism, Adu proved on the field that he does indeed have the potential to be a great player.
"It was obvious that when he came in the game he really opened it up," said fellow rookie Josh Gros. "We were down a man when he got in and we needed him to do some magic. His play speaks for itself."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.