HOUSTON — After a near two-year absence from the US national team, Freddy Adu made a shocking second-half substitute appearance Wednesday night against Panama at Reliant Stadium.
And arguably the most talked-about American player ever delivered in the most improbable way.
With his team needing energy, head coach Bob Bradley chose to insert Adu into a game that was starting to slip out of the US’ control.
“Bob said, ‘Go in the game, bring a lot of energy and make a difference,’” Adu said after the 1-0 win that saw the US advance to Saturday’s Gold Cup final. “That was my instructions and I tried to apply that.”
Adu’s impact was felt immediately with his creativity, passing and ability to find space behind a tiring Panama back line. His crowning moment came on a sublime outlet pass from the middle of the field that set fellow second-half sub Landon Donovan up to deliver the game-winning assist.
The playmaker finished the game with a few more positive sequences, holding the ball well to help kill off a semifinal victory. From the postgame comments, his performance caught the eye of his teammates and coach, but for Adu, it was a signal of a change in mentality.
“He didn’t start this camp well,” Bradley said of his young attacker. “There were days early on where he gained in confidence but there were days where it didn’t go so well. But over time, he started to get better and better. He came in with a good mentality and he’s matured along the way and he earned a good opportunity.”
That hard work and maturity paid off with Adu’s standout performance Wednesday. His play and composure show signs that the ballyhooed youngster is starting to turn the corner.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, but mentally you always have to be prepared,” Adu said. “It’s been a long road back to playing with the national team again, and you really have to be prepared when you get that chance to be out on the field. This is where you want to be, representing your country at this level, which is where you want to play at.”
Darrell Lovell is a Houston based beat writer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.