CHESTER, Pa. – It’s become something of a common sports cliché for athletes to state that each game is as meaningful as the next.
For Philadelphia Union midfielder Freddy Adu, however, it’s fair to say that Thursday’s nationally televised showdown against D.C. United at PPL Park (8 pm ET, ESPN2) holds a little bit of extra meaning.
It will mark the first time, after all, that Adu plays against the team that gave him his first professional contract.
“Definitely there is some emotion there,” said Adu, who signed with D.C. as a 14-year-old phenom in 2004. “I had an amazing three years with D.C. United. I grew up watching D.C. United and supporting D.C. United and then playing for D.C. United. Even with the national team, when I go back [to Washington], the fans always show me great support. So it will definitely be emotional for me.”
Of course, much has changed since Adu left D.C. in 2006 and spent the next four years club-hopping around MLS and Europe. The only United players remaining from the Adu era are defender Devon McTavish and midfielder Clyde Simms. One of the guys Adu used to compete with for playing time on the wing, Ben Olsen, is still there, too – except he now wears a suit to games as the club's head coach.
But there is at least one thing Adu doesn’t expect to change: the way his hometown team approaches the game.
“It’s D.C. United – they always come to play,” Adu said. “That’s how it’s always been. We expect a tough game. This is a big game for both teams.”
Thursday’s contest certainly is a big one as both the Union (9-7-13) and United (9-8-11) are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race with the regular season winding down.
But playoff implications aside, the game also pits two East Coast teams that have developed a fierce, natural rivalry since the Union came into the league last year. It’s a rivalry Adu has never seen firsthand, but one that he is eager to embrace.
“Since I haven’t experienced it before, I couldn’t tell you [what it will be like],” Adu said. “But I do expect it to be a battle, kind of like when I was with D.C. and we used to play against New York. That was always a battle, and this is going to be the same thing.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.