The name Freddy Adu has been associated with the idea of a cautionary tale for so long now, it can be easy to forget just how much talent the one-time prodigy really had. But in his day, Adu really was a beast of different proportions on the pitch — part of what made his gradual fall into relative soccer obscurity and a journeyman career feel like such an unfortunate arch.
Don't believe Adu was that good? Just ask MLS veteran and current Nashville SC midfielder Dax McCarty, who played with Adu when the two were teenagers attending the US Soccer youth residency program in Bradenton, Florida. According to McCarty, who was speaking on MLSsoccer.com's Extratime Radio, seeing Adu firsthand left him believing that all the hype around his raw skills was warranted in hindsight.
"I've got to admit, I mean still to this day, he was at the tiime, and even looking back on it now, the most talented player I've ever seen," McCarty said.
The problem, though, according to McCarty, was the fallout from all that attention and the impact of the pressure getting thrust upon Adu at such a young age.
"It was actually mind-blowing to me that he was as good as he was," McCarty said. "I was like — I could not wrap my head around how dominant this guy was. He was truly a rock star in every sense of the word. And I think Freddy has admitted this actually in numerous interviews since, but it all got to his head. And you could see that.
"I can't imagine dealing with that as an 18 or 19-year-old. Imagine dealing with that as a 14-year-old, right?"
McCarty, who is always good for a solid quote, also gave his thoughts on the career of Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, who he's witnessed progress from a relatively overlooked prospect into one of the best US internationals of his generation.
To hear McCarty tell it, Bradley wasn't originally heralded as one of the can't-miss up-and-comers, but built himself into what he is by simply living and breathing the game and proving his worth at every stop of his professional career.
"It was unbelievable, the way that Michael took himself from, I guess, from what you would call an average prospect at the time, and made himself one of the best players to ever wear the US men’s national team jersey," McCarty said. "To see that progression was really, really incredible. You could see the reason he was why he was, and it was because of Bob [Bradley]. I mean this guy was obsessed with the game and he had the building blocks that you need to be a great player. He was extremely dedicated, he was extremely focused, he was extremely fit. ...Michael still to this day carries himself the same way he did back then. And that’s just because, I think he’s a Bob disciple and I think they both live and breath the game.
"Bob was a guy that -- Michael grew up in Bob’s locker rooms," he added. "You could tell from the earliest time I met Michael that he knew exactly who he was and exactly who he wanted to be. And then the progression was great, right?
"He always was super fit and he was always a pretty good passer. But I think the things that Michael added later, those are things that everyone can [add]," McCarty continued. "The mentality was always great. But it’s the technique, it’s the touches in the middle of the field. It’s the being aware of your surroundings. It’s the soccer IQ. And he had all those building blocks. But at Heerenveen, he improved those, right? The goal-scoring ability, his late runs into the box. And that’s the other thing about Michael, is that he’s evolved a lot as a player."