Wynalda: Much ado about ... Gaven
We're running out of people to compare Freddy Adu to. He's been compared to Pele. He's been compared to other athletes his age. It's been determined that for his age, he's a phenom. But what does that all equate to for Major League Soccer and D.C. United?
D.C. United is hovering around the middle of the table in the East and hasn't accomplished any sort of a run that would move them closer to first place. With Peter Nowak deciding to release Ronald Cerritos, a seasoned veteran, and with all the rumors of a new stadium swirling, it is clear to me that D.C. United is still in some sort of rebuilding phase. It is also clear that Freddy's impact on attendance, ratings and overall recognition for the league has been his contribution. However, he has not been able to contribute in a substantial way on the field.
My question is, was there anybody out there who really thought a 14/15-year-old kid was going to be an immediate impact player? This ongoing saga of whether to start him or not, and what exactly is the best role for Freddy, is still in my opinion unsettled. I don't think it's fair for any of us to call him a great soccer player at this point in his career. He's great for a 15-year-old, but it doesn't make sense for Peter Nowak or D.C. United to pretend that he is going to be the difference maker in the near future. I think it is safe to assume that in a couple of years' time, Adu will be an impact player in this league, similar to the likes of Eddie Gaven.
The 17-year-old Gaven has quietly gone about his business and become a mainstay in the MetroStars' starting lineup, regardless of who's there or unavailable or injured. His recent surge of goals has proven that Bob Bradley's patience and guidance - very similar to the DaMarcus Beasley project - could be the difference for Gaven. Very simply put, he can play. And that's why it is not a surprise to have seen him on the roster for next week's U.S. national team friendly against Poland. It doesn't surprise anybody.
And I don't think there has been a more appropriate time to allow Gaven the opportunity to play with the U.S. national team. Keep in mind, this is because of his year-and-a-half of experience in the league and the fact that his steady growth as a player and his growing confidence are why he is definitely an impact player and, as far as the MetroStars are concerned, a difference maker.
Understanding all of the hype and all of the intrigue, I have to say that I would pick Gaven over Adu. That shouldn't surprise anybody, either. I know all those "Fred-heads" out there, as I like to call them, think that Freddy should start every game and be given as many opportunities as possible to show his worth. Well, let me just say this for the record: That is ludicrous, and it would not be the appropriate action to take at this time.
I know the fans want to see him play, but what they have to understand is this process takes patience. Judging from Freddy's comments about his playing time last week, he is just as impatient as they are. As a professional soccer player, his comments warrant an apology to his teammates. Let me remind you, Freddy. You are 15 years old. Never are you allowed to have an opinion of when you think you should play. That's your coach's job, and that's what he meant when he said "Freddy is supposed to know that he is one member of this team." Although his role, in my opinion, is still undefined, under no circumstances should he be demanding playing time.
My guess is the next time Freddy Adu scores will be in the All-Star Game because, let's face it, he'll be there, and it will remind us of Landon Donovan's four-goal performance in San Jose in 2001. Donovan was miked during the game, and at one point he turned to the bench and said, "It's almost like they're not trying," which prompted the Miami Fusion's Jim Rooney to respond, "Uh ... they're not." So as long as the opponents are trying, and Peter Nowak is trying to win games, and D.C. United is trying to climb the table, I suggest Freddy tries to keep his mouth shut.
This week will probably not be the best week to start Freddy due to the fact that the MetroStars are coming off of two very tough losses to two previously last-place teams. The MetroStars completely fell apart at home against Colorado and were basically outplayed in New England. There's no reason to hit the panic button for the Metros. That certainly wouldn't be Bob Bradley's style. However, they are a very motivated team coming into the July 4 weekend. I actually think that this is the one game that I would want to see out of all the fixtures this week, and I'm glad ESPN2 is covering it.
I think this matchup, as it has in the past, will come down to coaching and how Bradley and Nowak deal with each other. This matchup has always been a tactical battle. Alecko Eskandarian and Gaven are two of the hottest goal scorers in the league right now, and Eddie Pope and Ezra Hendrickson will provide some interesting battles on set pieces. Since I've stopped making predictions, I'm not going to start again as far as the scoreline goes, but this should be a darn good game to watch.
Catch Eric this weekend as the analyst on RadioShack Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. Do you have feedback on Wynalda's feedback? Please send your comments to Wynalda. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.