and Freddy Adu -- means to ticket sales and promotion of their club and the league as a whole, but also what the visit of their chief Eastern Conference rival means as an early-season test to the club's mettle.
Just after Adu was signed last November in the days leading up to MLS Cup 2003, the announcement led to a whirlwind media tour of New York metropolitan area -- and this is his first visit for an actual game. As has been the case the past two weeks in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, the local and national media -- and the hype -- are gathering in force.
But more than just the latest installment of "Freddymania", the Metro-United clash offers an intriguing subplot to Adu's development as a professional.
A year ago, MetroStars midfielder Eddie Gaven became the youngest player in league history -- a distinction he held until Adu's debut in the season opener. Gaven's first goal as a professional, as a 16-year-old, came in a dramatic golden goal match-winner against United at RFK Stadium after the MetroStars played a man down for an hour.
And Gaven has seen first-hand what Adu can do, as the two were teammates on the U.S. under-17 team at the FIFA U-17 World Championship last year, when Freddymania hit Finland.
"When he's dribbling at you one-on-one, he's very hard to defend," Gaven said. "So, hopefully we can pressure him ...(and) make him play a lot of one- and two-touch."
To this point, Adu hasn't yet started a game, coming on as a sub to play 30 minutes in D.C.'s opener against San Jose and 45 minutes last week in L.A. But last weekend against the Galaxy, for the first time in his young career he looked comfortable playing with professionals, something he confirmed after the game.
On one occasion during the L.A. game, he beat his defender one-on-one and played a cross from the left side of the box, but no United player was close enough to collect the pass. In the 90th minute, he made a move to give himself space and fired his first professional shot -- a low, hard shot that Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman got down to save.
If he gets some playing time this weekend, Adu could be a handful for the MetroStars. Gaven said the MetroStars are lucky they've got another Eddie in central defense. Gaven has gone up against Adu's footwork, the attribute that makes him so tough to contain - and come out second-best.
"I've definitely tried to play defense against that (footwork), and he's blown by me more than one time," Gaven said. "That's me, though. I'm not the greatest defender in the world. At least, I'm not Eddie Pope."
If Adu gets the chance to go one-on-one with Pope, the Giants Stadium crowd -- and the national television audience watching on ESPN2 -- will not only see the 14-year-old with quick feet. They will also be reintroduced to one of the best defenders in MLS history.
Likewise, when Freddy is not on the field or doesn't have the ball, the fans he draws to the game will be watching other players, such as promising MetroStars forward Mike Magee. The MetroStars realize that and accept "Freddymania" as a positive.
"Maybe they're coming for Freddy, but they're going to see me, too," Magee said. "I'm excited to be a part of it."
For Adu to figure prominently in the outcome of the match though, he'll have to beat out a United strike pair that have also shone during the early season. Jaime Moreno is playing like the Jaime of old and his young partner, Alecko Eskandarian, is starting to fulfill the potential that made him the top pick in the 2003 SuperDraft.
Fortunately for head coach Bob Bradley, the MetroStars defense has not forgotten about Moreno, who was on the MetroStars in 2003, and Eskandarian -- and know that they are two more talented players for all to see.
"We obviously know how good Jaime is," said MetroStars captain Pope, who is now fully healthy and ready to play Saturday. "It's not a surprise to us that they're ... playing well, and that they might do well this weekend. We know that those two guys are important guys to watch."
MetroStars general manager Nick Sakiewicz announced during his opening remarks at the team's media day event Tuesday that 23,000 tickets for the game had been sold, and added that attendance for opening day this year should surpass that of last year by a healthy margin. He brought attention to a fan advisory asking fans to buy their tickets in advance to avoid having a massive walk-up crowd.
Sakiewicz also had a little fun with the now-familiar pun that has blanketed sports pages since late November. At the end of his remarks, he jokingly declined to introduce Bradley without further "ado," instead giving Bradley the podium "without further delay."
It's clear that everyone involved with the MetroStars knows what else this weekend's visit by D.C. United means for their club and for MLS: more tickets sold, more people introduced to soccer.
MLS TELECONFERENCE CALL – Wednesday, April 14, 2004
In teleconference call held Wednesday, April 14, 2004, D.C. United forward Freddy Adu and Head Coach Peter Nowak discussed the third match of the season: on Saturday, April 17 when the MetroStars hosts United at Giants Stadium live on ESPN2 (4:00pm ET).
D.C. United Head Coach – Peter Nowak
D.C. United forward – Freddy Adu
Peter Nowak opening comments:
“I’m very excited about this game in New York. It’s important for us to keep our level over the last two weeks. I’m looking forward to the game and looking forward to going up against my friend Bob Bradley.”
Freddy Adu opening comments:
“I’m excited about going to the New York area. It’s a DC - NY rivalry and I‘m excited to be part of it and excited to be going up against (national team) teammates like Eddie Gaven and Michael Bradley who I played with for two years down in Bradenton (Florida) so it should be fun.”
Nowak on Adu’s progress:
“He did very well in the last game against Los Angeles. He found his rhythm and connected very well with this teammates and I’m happy with him during practice. Things don’t happen overnight. He and us need to be patient. We have to move forward and see what we can do to make him better and make our team better. I’m pleased with his efforts in practice and overall I think he’s going to get better.”
Nowak on the possibilities of him starting vs. the MetroStars:
“It’s pretty early in the week. The game in Los Angeles was pretty significant progress from the week before against San Jose. A lot of things for Freddy will be brand new in his life and around him, so we have to be patient. We still have a couple of days to adjust the situation and make our team better.”
Adu on what he’s learned in his first weeks as a professional:
“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned it’s still the same game. Everything is just a little faster. So when I do something I just have to do it faster. I’ve been thinking a bit too much and that takes me a bit out of my game. Now I’ve learned I trust my teammates, make the right runs and my teammates will get me the ball in the right spots. Now I’m just working a little harder. My fitness has gotten a lot better and I’m working a lot harder on defense as I am on offense.”
Nowak on whether he has received any feedback from the league
“We are very fortunate to have the Commissioner and Mr. (Ivan) Gazidis on behalf of the League backing me up. They know this process is steady and is not going to happen overnight. It’s a daily process. We’re going to get Freddy better and our team better. We cannot see what’s going to happen in a day. We have to see what’s going to happen in weeks and months and years to make him a complete player. I’ve said that he has the skills to be one of the best in the world but we have to be patient. As I said, the League didn’t put any pressure on me. I’m very pleased and appreciate that very much.”
Adu on whether he thinks fans expect him to dominate soccer games:
“I don’t know what they (fans) are thinking. There are some causal fans and they think you’re going to do magic and dominate and have 10 goals. That’s not how it works. You have to work hard. The most goals you’re going to get in a game is two or three. You have to go out there and play your game and do what the team wants you to do and not worry about the fans. There will be times when you get a one-on-one against someone and you take them on. The fans will be happy with that. You have to go out and play and be yourself.”
Nowak on what Adu brings to the field of play:
“We don’t want to make Freddy into an average player in this league. He’s very special and everyone is going to be very excited about this game. We want to make sure he’s prepared for it and he’s not going to make one play in a game but five plays and everyone will be excited and say ‘this is what we’re looking for’.”
Nowak on the revamped MetroStars squad:
“This is Bob Bradley’s business. I have to take care of my business first. We’re not looking at what the other team is doing. We have to concentrate and focus on our job. We will see what we can do this weekend and we will come with a game plan and execute it.”
Nowak on whether Adu is ready for 90 minutes:
“He’s doing what everyone else is doing in practice. As far as that, he’s making big progress right now but I’m not sure he’s ready for 90 minutes.”
Nowak on the criticism he has received for not starting Adu:
“I just moved into a new apartment and I have no TV or internet. We have to concentrate on how to make this team better and how to make my players better. As far as that, I respect all opinions. If someone approaches me and tells me this is how it’s supposed to be, we can discuss it. But my players and the coaching staff make the decisions and this is it. You cannot change a decision that happened two weeks ago. We have to move forward and do what we can do better.”
Adu on what has surprised him most about professional game:
“To be honest it’s how smart defenders are in this league. That’s something that did surprise me a little bit. They’re very smart and always on the right foot. It’s very hard to get a shot on goal and to have a lot of space to take a ball at somebody. You have to work extra hard to do that.”
Adu on whether he ever gets tired of the media attention:
“Sometimes I get very exhausted. Sometimes I get tired of it and that’s when I take time off and just concentrate on playing soccer. There are days I’m tied up with stuff and days where I have nothing and I just chill. It comes with the job. I’ve accepted it and I have to make it into a normal routine because I know it’s going to keep coming.”
Adu on whether the media attention is every embarrassing:
“Yeah, it’s embarrassing when I’m around my teammates and friends because all they do is make fun of me with that stuff. It takes me back down to earth and I don’t get a big head about it. I’ve always wanted to be famous and now that it’s here I am cool and I‘m not going to get a big head about it. I just have to do what I do best. But it’s fun.”
Adu on whether defenders have been physical against him:
“Danny Califf (Los Angeles Galaxy) was a little physical with me when I played him. I think he thought doing that will take me off my game. But I’m use to that now. It doesn’t bother me at all. I keep playing. If someone hits me hopefully the referee will protect me. But I’m going to be a little more aggressive. I’m not going to get pushed off the ball too easily. I’m going to stand up for myself.”
Adu on his national celebrity status:
“When you go out the people recognize you that you don’t think would recognize you. You see old men and women walking around. I know in this country they don’t care about soccer. They turn around and say ‘aren’t you Freddy Adu?’ I’m surprised. When we go out of town everyone recognizes me. I didn’t think a soccer player in the U.S. would be recognized everywhere he went. It’s cool but sometimes it gets out of hand.”
Nowak on the status of Forward Alecko Eskandarian:
“Alecko is alright. Compared to the game against San Jose he didn’t do a good enough job and we made a substitution. He’s done well in these last couple of days of practice. It’s early, it’s Wednesday, and we’ll see.”
Adu on whether he has recovered from an injured ankle:
“It feels pretty good. I’m able to shoot with it. I would say it’s just about maybe not 100 percent but really close.”
Adu on the attention from the fans:
“After playing a game they follow you back to the hotel and there’s a mob outside. What are you going to do? They ask you for autographs. I would like to have my privacy back at the hotel but what are you going to do about it?”
Adu on whether he misses anonymity of the Bradenton Academy:
“I miss that because you were so away form everything else. And all you did is concentrate on soccer and school and the media stuff would happen once a week. That was pretty cool. That’s what I miss about it.”
Adu on how he has worked on not getting knocked off the ball:
“That’s all with me. I didn’t know how strong I was until last week. Before I expected to get knocked off the ball. Now I don’t expect to get knocked off the ball. I say to myself ‘I will not let that happen’. You hold your own and keep playing and keep the ball moving for your team.”
Adu on which celebrities he has heard from:
“Shaquille O’Neal, the whole Lakers team and people like Mischa Barton and Robert DuVall and Will Farrell. I was pretty surprised.”
Nowak on former teammate DaMarcus Beasley’s challenges
with getting knocked off the ball:
“When DaMarcus came into the League he was already 17 and it took him six or seven months to get him in a game and he still got pushed down and kicked down. Then he stood up. It’s not an easy process for all of us especially for the rookies. Keep in mind Freddy is three years younger than DaMarcus was.”
Adu on attending a Los Angeles Lakers game and meeting the team:
“I went to a game and I was surprised. Shaq came out with the ball doing stepovers and calling himself Freddy Adu. That was funny. I was just sitting watching the game and they all came out of the locker room and said ‘welcome to the professional world’. That was pretty nice of him.”
Adu on whether his family and friends treat him any differently:
“They’re making me do the same chores before this started happening. My friends do the same thing with me. They don’t treat me any differently. They talk trash to me, they talk to me just like they did when I first came to this country and I wouldn’t have it any different. She makes me do the dishes and all that stuff. I don’t like it but I do it.”