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As hype builds, Adu reaches Tampa

Published February 19, 2004

Freddy Adu arrived in Tampa with his megawatt smile and brand new team, the best club in league history. 60 Minutes is working on a piece about him. The Washington Post dispatched a reporter to cover his debut.

Yes, Freddy Adu is here.

While Adu hasn't induced Richter-scale shockwaves at ESPN like A-Rod's trade to the Yankees, he has generated an unprecedented buzz in the American soccer community.

That buzz reaches north Tampa tonight, as the 14-year-old prodigy will play a preseason exhibition for D.C. United against the Kansas City Wizards at 7 at the USF Soccer Stadium.

"I haven't seen him play personally live so I'm really looking forward to it," said former Tampa Bay Rowdies player Mike Connell, who will be one of about 10 ex-Rowdies in attendance. "I caught some (videotape of Adu), but when you've only seen it in spots, it's hard to gauge him in 90-minute situations.

"It will be intriguing to see him playing at this level (against MLS players)."

It is Adu's third pro game. The first two were in Bradenton at IMG Academies, where D.C. is training and Adu attends school. In his debut Feb. 11 vs. the U.S. national team, Adu started and earned favorable reviews. He played the first half, on the wing as an attacking midfielder, during which D.C. controlled the action.

"(D.C.) Coach (Peter Nowak) told me after the game that I couldn't have done any better," Adu told the Washington Post. "So I guess that's a pretty good start."

Adu signed with United, three-time MLS champions, in the winter despite overtures from several top European clubs. He will earn roughly $500,000 in total compensation this season, far less than he could have made overseas. But he will be near his home in Maryland and his mother, Emelia.

Tonight's match, which benefits the USF soccer program, sold out the 3,860-seat venue and an additional few hundred seats have been added along the sidelines.

Because he is so young, properly nurturing Adu has been a concern. He is 5 feet 8, 145 pounds and the age-equivalent of high school freshmen. (Adu is on an accelerated academic program and is slated to graduate in May.)

"I just like to hope that Pete Nowak will guide and protect and take care of him," Connell said. "I feel for (Adu) because I think an awful lot of expectations are being placed on him."

His peers seem to have taken a shine to him, according to the Post.

"Freddy, man, you've got to take it easy on us," U.S. national team player Chris Klein said after the Feb. 11 game.

Adu's family won an immigration lottery and moved to Potomac, Md., from Ghana in 1997. He later moved to IMG Academies to train with the Under-17 residency program. Adu's remarkable talent has been known in soccer circles for a few years, and last summer the world caught a glimpse at the U-17 world championships in Finland. A midfield/forward, he is blessed with the total package of skills plus a splash of panache.

"Freddy's without a doubt the most talented kid we've ever seen at that age," U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena said last year.

The big question is if he will play tonight. The decision belongs to Nowak.

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]


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