It's been a rollercoaster spring for D.C. United, marked by mixed results and confounding inconsistency. After last week's dispiriting home loss to FC Dallas, both the team and its most visible player are escaping the Beltway -- albeit in diametrically different directions -- to decompress and get a fresh perspective on a trying season.
Freddy Adu, who turned 16 on Thursday, journeys to Holland with the Under-20 U.S. national team as they prepare for the World Youth Championships, while the rest of the United squad has flown to Colorado for a bit of relaxation at club owner/operator Phil Anschutz's Eagles' Nest ranch.
Anschutz, whose AEG company also operates four other MLS franchises as well as the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, annually invites all his teams to the rural escape, which at 45,000 acres is larger than the entire Washington suburb of Arlington, Va.
United's players conducted a light training session at the ranch Wednesday, then had some free time for fishing, golfing, horseback riding and even skeet shooting. On Thursday the squad continued on to San Jose, where they face the Earthquakes on Saturday night in an important match for both teams.
Despite the well-timed R & R, head coach Peter Nowak dismissed suggestions that his side is suffering from fatigue.
"This is professional soccer," he said. "In England they play every second day, in Germany they play every third day. They have Champions League games, they have national team games. You cannot just say, 'Oh, I am tired.'
"There is no such thing as tired. Either you are out of shape, or you are not fit," he continued, then uttered words that may run a chill down his players' spines. "We don't train twice a day -- maybe we should."
Meanwhile, Adu looks to take a more prominent role with the U-20s as they prepare for a demanding tournament schedule.
"On that team, I'm more of a leader, and things go through me," he said. "So I'm ready for that. It's not going to be easy making that transition, but playing on a team that I played on in the last U-20 World Cup, I've got to bring that experience to the table."
|"I told him before he left, you have to be the guy who takes the responsibility ... make sure that everyone around you is going to understand what kind of person you are. And I told him, I want to see an MVP trophy when you come back."|
|-- D.C. coach Peter Nowak to Adu|
"It's a tough group," said Adu. "If we get out of our group, we're in good shape, man. That's the most important thing."
Adu's eagerness to rejoin Sigi Schimid's U-20 squad is tempered with regret at missing three weeks of MLS action at a crucial time in United's campaign.
"Whenever you get the chance to represent your country in a World Cup, it's a great honor. It's a chance to show the world what you've got. I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I do wish, though, that I would be able to stay here and play with D.C. a little bit more, because this is an important stretch for us right now."
The teen star, who will have more freedom in his attacking role with the national team, hopes that a strong performance in Holland can jumpstart what has so far been an erratic 2005 season.
"Right now, I feel like I'm in a funk or something," said Adu. "But that helps your confidence, when you go out there and you're moving, getting a lot of touches on the ball, and you do your thing. And the good thing is, I am allowed to do my thing on that team, so that's great. Hopefully when I come back, I'll be in good form."
Adu's club coach has made no secret of his high expectations for the phenom's European adventure.
"I told him before he left, you have to be the guy who takes the responsibility," said Nowak. "PKs, free kicks, it doesn't matter. When the time comes, and the game is difficult ... make sure that everyone around you is going to understand what kind of person you are. And I told him, I want to see an MVP trophy when you come back."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.