As names of international players from around the world churn inside the MLS rumor mill this offseason, it is easy to lose sight of the one name that could prove the biggest MLS offseason acquisition of them all: Freddy Adu.
(That is, if he can secure a release from his European club contract this January.)
If you come across the cliché soccer articles about a precocious talent who’s prematurely flamed out, it probably has Adu’s name in it somewhere. But the authors’ ignorance is exposed in these cases because the Benfica player is far from done.
The 21-year-old former teen phenom is a particular player, the likes of which American soccer has never exported since the days of Tab Ramos: the classic No. 10. He’s not a winger (DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan), he’s not a forward (Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey) and he’s not a two-way central midfielder (Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden). He's not a clean fit.
And for a No. 10 to succeed, especially in Europe, it takes blind faith from a coach. That’s frankly hard to come by in any league around the world. But it wouldn’t be nearly as tough in MLS, where Adu is a known quantity.
That’s why a return stateside should be a no-brainer and there is one club in particular that would make the best fit and give him a real chance at success: the Philadelphia Union.
Aside from the surface consideration of the manager who is already familiar with Adu from their D.C. United days (Peter Nowak), there’s a fan base in Philadelphia that would welcome the most prominent “name” acquisition in club history with open arms.
[inline_node:316952]He’d turn out to be the big personality that Philly sports fans are known to love. His brash attitude would sit well in a city that adores its sports figures. His hunger to prove himself all over again would be a match for the Union’s hard-working, overachieving group.
More importantly, Adu would be a fit in the attacking style of play that Nowak and the Union have established at PPL Park. His skill and vision would mesh perfectly in a fast, young squad with a penchant for quick passing combinations and running off the ball.
MVP candidate Sebastien Le Toux can take the forward spot alongside Danny Mwanga after Alejandro Moreno was lost in the Expansion Draft. That would allow Adu to roam as a floating No. 10 with wingers like Justin Mapp providing support.
Adu would make the Union more dangerous simply by taking over set piece duties, especially with aerial weapons like Danny Califf and Michael Orozco.
And not only would Adu be close to home, but the Union’s rivalry with D.C. United could also take on new meaning.
But this is less about the player and more about the most valuable piece for any MLS club. Teams scour the world for those “special” players and difference-makers on the attacking side of the ball. In a mature Adu, humbled by his experience in Europe, they have just that player who is looking at them right in the face with the MLS experience to boot.
Should he make an MLS comeback, Adu's destination would be based on allocation rankings. For the Union, he could be the piece that allows them to take the jump to become serious playoff contenders in 2011.
European clubs may not have figured out how to get the best from Adu in recent years. Give him one more chance in the right situation back home in MLS and those soccer obituaries will need some editing.