Saturday night turned another important chapter in the development of young Freddy Adu at RFK Stadium, as the 15-year-old provided the driving force behind D.C. United's impressive 3-1 win against the Columbus Crew.
Making his second start of the season, Adu turned in a strong, end-to-end performance that blended his well-known attacking flair with a newfound defensive intensity. His stats -- two assists and a goal -- were impressive, but his workrate on the other side of the ball was what really turned heads.
"I think he played great," said winger Josh Gros. "But even more than the offense, I was more impressed with how he was playing on defense. He's learned that you've got to play on both sides and he did that tonight, for sure."
The United coaching staff has harped on this aspect of Adu's game, which takes on added significance in the club's high-pressure, team-oriented defensive approach.
"Everyone has a responsibility to do the dirty jobs," said United head coach Peter Nowak. "This is not only Brian Carroll or Clyde Simms or Mike Petke or Bobby Boswell, this is for everyone."
Gros, who turned in a strong night's work roaming the left touchline, most notably with a highlight-reel diving header that put United up 2-0 in the ninth minute, hailed the return of his squad's finishing touch.
"I don't think I've ever scored a goal like that," said the second-year Rutgers product of the goal. "It felt pretty good. I think over the past few weeks we were playing pretty (well), but we just weren't putting the ball away. Anytime you can put the ball away like we did tonight, it's a huge boost."
With his side winless since opening day, Nowak tweaked his starting lineup for the important Eastern Conference match, bringing Adu and Simms into the center of D.C.'s five-man midfield, and the change paid dividends.
Simms worked hard in cover of the United back three and distributed the ball economically, while Adu seemed bursting with confidence after seeing limited playing time over the past few weeks.
"This was probably my best performance as a professional," said the teen phenom, "and it couldn't have come at a better time. I haven't been the happiest guy on the face of the earth, but you know what, I didn't complain, I didn't get upset about it, I just tried to keep working hard."
United helped themselves greatly by jumping out to an early lead over the traditionally stingy Crew, grabbing two goals in the match's first nine minutes. Adu pointed to the result as an important turning point for the defending champs, who have so far languished in the doldrums in 2005.
"It was huge for the team, huge for the team," he said. "You could see in the guys' eyes -- there was just so much confidence oozing out of everybody after the first goal, the second goal.
"That always makes the game easy. After you go up and you have a lead, the game opens up and they have to throw people (forward) to try and equalize. There's a lot more space around."
United now look to carry this effort forward into next week's road showdown with the high-flying and still unbeaten New England Revolution, who squeaked out an exciting 4-3 win against the Black-and-Red at RFK last month.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.