Eddie Gaven

MetroStars ready for Freddy, United

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.

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