It took more than an hour of playing time, but the sellout crowd at R.F.K. Stadium finally got it was waiting for when Freddy Adu came onto the field early in the second half. The return of one prodigal son -- United's Jaime Moreno -- had already put the home side into the lead before the newest prodigal son came into his first professional game.
The professional debut of Adu has been highly anticipated for months, ever since the 14-year-old was signed by Major League Soccer. The attraction of his first game meant tickets were gone a few days before Opening Day, and the atmosphere was electric on East Capitol Street -- even when Adu didn't figure in the starting lineup.
United coach Peter Nowak kept Adu out of the first team, instead preferring to allow the young prodigy to soak up the atmosphere and get a close-up view of the play on the field before throwing him into the mix. But while he wasn't in on the action, he certainly wasn't far from minds of those in the stands.
Chants of "Freddy, Freddy" rang throughout the ground while he warmed up on the sidelines after halftime. Adu said he noticed the signs and Ghanaian flags scattered throughout the stands.
"The fans, they were awesome. When I was so nervous at the start of the game, the fans got me so riled up I was ready to play the game," Adu said. "They just made me feel so comfortable."
Adu said it took the first 10 minutes of the game for his jitters to go away. "But then I was watching the game and I said to myself, 'Why am I so nervous?'"
Nowak said he knew his young charge was nervous during the buildup to the game, and decided to try to ease his pressure by keeping him out of the starting lineup.
"It wasn't an easy decision. I could see him getting more nervous as it was getting nearer to the game," Nowak said. "But then I just told him to enjoy himself and play his game."
Adu had a fairly quiet professional debut. Replacing Alecko Eskandarian in United's attack in the 61st minute, he saw little of the ball as United clung to a 2-1 lead. Adu then dropped more into midfield after Dema Kovalenko was sent off with 10 minutes remaining, leaving both teams a man short.
He did bring the crowd to its feet, though, when he ran at Earthquakes defender Jeff Agoos. But the veteran stood up to Adu's move, easily taking the ball away just inside the box -- Adu was then told by referee Kevin Stott to get up as he lay in the penalty area when he fell under the Agoos challenge.
"That was great defense, obviously - great defense," Adu said. "But that's OK. Next time I know what I've got to do, and I just got to do it a little quicker ... [Stott] told me to get back up. I had to try, but you don't always get those calls."
In the end, Moreno's 11th-minute goal and his cross which led to Eskandarian's tally was the difference in the game. Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear said Adu was clearly talented, but said people shouldnt' expect too much too soon.
"I don't think we should be rating him too much yet. I was here when Landon [Donovan] broke in [in 2001] and it took 10 to 12 games to get his feet under him," Kinnear said. "I think we need to sit back and enjoy him for a while and not put too much pressure on him."