For four consecutive seasons from 2014-17, when Fanendo Adi took the field for the Portland Timbers, goals often followed. He was one of the league's most productive forwards, hitting the net 51 times in 112 matches.
Then the Nigerian endured the last two seasons.
Adi's influence on the starting XI in Portland loosened in 2018, laying the groundwork for a trade to FC Cincinnati ahead of their expansion season, the club entrusting him as their first Designated Player signing. A less than productive half-season in USL for Adi ominously preceded the club's inaugural MLS season, which started inauspiciously and seemed to get worse.
Preseason ended with Adi openly questioning whether the club had enough attacking quality, then came an injury in his third match. It got worse off the field, when he was stopped for speeding and cited for Operating a Vehicle Impared by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in the early morning of March 31.
He was suspended for most of April, and despite his eventual return was waived in January following a season in which scored just once in 12 MLS appearances.
“That was the most disappointing year of my career," Adi told MLSsoccer.com last week. "It was a difficult year but in life, it’s important to have good health and as long as your family is well, it’s good. Soccer-wise, it’s a year that I don’t want to remember."
Adi was placed on waivers by Cincy this offseason and claimed by Columbus Crew SC, who will pay just $205,000 of his contract, which was $1.97 million in 2019, per MLSPA numbers. The rest will be picked up by Cincy. He's just happy for a fresh start with some familiar faces.
"I put (last season) behind me already," Adi said. "As you can see, I’m very focused on working with the Columbus Crew and looking forward to a beautiful year.”
Adi had options outside MLS, but he opted to stay, in part because his family and in part because of Crew head coach Caleb Porter. Porter and Adi worked together in Portland, when Adi was in fine form, helping lead the club to win 2015 MLS Cup. The bond player and coach have meant Adi didn't have to think twice when Porter put in the call.
“Obviously I had other options, but Caleb was always going to be my first choice if he calls me, in any situation," Adi said. "When the interest came and he spoke to me directly how he wants me here, it didn’t take me long to tell him yes.”
The pair formed a tight bond, one that didn't end when Porter left Portland after the 2017 season.
“He’s a father figure to me, he’s a great guy," Adi said. "What he’s done for me, how much he’s done for my career since I came to MLS, it’s a beautiful thing. How he cared for me even when he was without a job, reaching out to me to make sure I’m doing well. It’s a such a close relationship, it’s amazing. He trusts me and I trust him, I know he has a plan for bringing me here.”
The forward figures to be the primary backup for Gyasi Zardes entering the regular season. Expectations aren't anywhere near where they were for him compared to this time last year, as the man tasked with the goal-scoring burden for Cincy. He's much more relaxed, too.
"I’ve been feeling absolutely amazing in preseason," Adi said. "I’m not feeling stress, not worrying about things, I’m very comfortable. The players have accepted me with open arms. It’s been amazing since I got here, it’s gone even better than I expected.”
Adi isn't too interested in looking back on his time with FCC, but he isn't bitter either. He acknowledges what went wrong and is more focused on looking forward to 2020 with Columbus.
“There’s a lesson to learn in every situation. I’m grateful to FC Cincinnati for the opportunity they gave me," Adi said. "Showing the love and making me their first DP. I’m grateful to ownership and the city, they showed me love. Soccer-wise, obviously it didn’t go to plan. It’s a process, you go through that in life. I can only say I’m grateful for my time in Cincinnati.”