The U.S.'s wild 4--2 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final last Saturday was a testament to a new generation of gifted Mexican attackers who are all under 25, including Giovani dos Santos, Pablo Barrera, Javier (Chicharito) Hernàndez and Andrés Guardado. It also pointed up the relative scarcity of such players for the U.S. But there was one who emerged during the CONCACAF tournament, a 22-year-old who had the Yanks' best performance at the Rose Bowl: midfielder Freddy Adu. "This was a special night for me," said Adu, who helped create both U.S. goals with deft passing. "It was an amazing feeling coming into this camp after everything I've been through."
Seven years after making his pro debut as a 14-year-old prodigy, Adu has seemingly rescued a career that hit a low point last fall, when the Greek club Aris—his sixth team—essentially paid him to go away for six months. Last January, Adu swallowed his pride and moved on loan to Rizespor of the Turkish second division. "When you see a player go to the second division in Turkey to keep things going in his career, that tells you something," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley. "When I say he's matured, it shows in the way he comes in and acts and trains. He knows what's expected."
Bradley's recall of Adu after a two-year exile from the national team was a surprise, but that was nothing compared with his bringing on Adu as a substitute in the Gold Cup semifinal against Panama (in which Adu's long curling pass to Landon Donovan led to the game's only goal) and then starting him against Mexico. As a central attacking midfielder Adu unbalanced the Mexicans early and worked well with fellow attackers Donovan and Clint Dempsey. "I wanted to get the ball at my feet as much as possible, create, be dangerous and sort of slow down the game for us," Adu said afterward. Though he tired in the second half, his unexpected resurgence puts him firmly in the picture for the U.S. as it looks ahead to friendlies over the next 12 months before qualifying starts for World Cup 2014.
Adu struggled at first in U.S. training sessions, and for a while it appeared he might not see the field in the Gold Cup. But he gradually earned his way into consideration, winning respect from his teammates. "His attitude has been great," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "No one has had that pressure. He was billed as a messiah, and it's tough. But he's come in really humble. He's worked hard. He's gotten so much better in the rhythm and the flow of the team over the last month."
One season remains on Adu's contract with Portugal's Benfica, which will likely loan him out again, and a source close to Adu says teams in the Turkish first division have shown interest. If he can stay grounded and build on his Gold Cup resurgence, he may well revive a career that just seven months ago appeared to be in free fall. As he showed at the Rose Bowl, Adu still has skills that few U.S. players possess.
Grant Wahl and SI's team look at what's next for the U.S. at SI.com/soccer
Drink It In
While the Gold Cup signaled the last meaningful action for the U.S. men until 2012, the summer soccer calendar is bursting. The Women's World Cup and the U-17 World Cup are in full swing. Copa America, 2011's biggest tournament, was set to kick off on Friday, with Lionel Messi and Argentina seeking glory on home soil. Colombia will host the U-20 World Cup beginning on July 29 (the U.S. failed to qualify), and on July 27 at Red Bull Arena the MLS All-Stars will face Manchester United, one of many European clubs touring the States. World Cup 2014 preliminaries in the coming weeks include such tasty home-and-homes as Cambodia vs. Laos, Yemen vs. Iraq, and U.S. Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands—the fabled Daiquiri Derby.
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LEAP OF FAITH The 22-year-old Adu (far left) waited two years for a call-up from Bradley, then started against Mexico.
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