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14-year-old phenom Adu packs stadium

Thousands at exhibition featuring Freddy Adu suggest a community that misses its soccer.

Published February 20, 2004

TAMPA - For a soccer community parched since the demise of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, Thursday's MLS exhibition between D.C. and Kansas City was like a gallon of chilled water.

The presence of Freddy Adu turned it into Perrier.

"I need tickets" signs were on display outside the USF Soccer Stadium while the 4,107 who squeezed in - makeshift bleachers behind the west goal pushed attendance past the 3,860 capacity - witnessed the legend in making, the 14-year-old Adu, play his third professional game for D.C.

Many of the hundreds who never got tickets angled for a vantage point along the fence on the far side. Some of the more daring climbed a tree.

"There's people in trees, there's people standing on fencing," said ESPN soccer commentator Rob Stone, a Tampa resident. "I've never come to an MLS game, much less a preseason game, and (seen) signs that say "tickets wanted.'

"Freddy definitely had a huge part to play in it, but also this town really misses soccer and misses the Mutiny."

Kansas City won 1-0, but Adu was the focal point. D.C. coach Peter Nowak allowed him to go the full 90 minutes as a freelancing midfield/forward. He produced few memorable moments on the slick turf.

"I had fun even though things didn't go the way we would have liked," said Adu, who got a laugh out of the tree-climbers behind the D.C. bench. "I feel like I didn't play too well tonight. If I had to go on a scale of one to 10, I'd give myself a five.

"I didn't feel like myself. I was slipping a lot."

Adu's reputation soared when he starred for the under-17 national team last summer, and he has drawn comparisons to - gasp - Pele. He provided glimpses Thursday of his Allen Iverson-esque quickness, and he also was roughed up by Wizards defenders such as Nick Garcia and Diego Gutierrez.

"You know what? I'm going to have to deal with (them)," Adu said. "So I just say, "Bring it on.' "

Afterward, the charismatic Adu obliged many of the several hundred seeking an autograph.

"He's got so much passion for this game and so much love," said Nowak, who emphasized giving Adu creative freedom on the field. "He knows what to do with the ball. ... He's going to be very good."

Among those watching was former Mutiny coach Tim Hankinson, who coaches the Colorado Rapids.

"I wish the Mutiny were out there right now," Hankinson said.

Former USF goalkeeper Troy Perkins played the second half for D.C., allowing Justin Detter's winning score in the 53rd minute.

Adu is 5 years younger than the next-youngest United player and, at a listed 140 pounds, is 12 lighter than the next smallest. Thus he can be muscled off the ball, if a defender can get to him. His breathtaking acceleration caused a collective gasp on his first touch as he took off like a rocket before drawing the first of several fouls.

For the most part, though, Adu was off his game a tick, including several ineffective corner kicks. He stayed energized to the end, setting up a scoring opportunity in the final minute.

"There are days when you play real well and you feel good, and there are days when things aren't going right and it kind of takes a lot out of you," said Adu, scheduled to be featured on 60 Minutes March 21. "But that's why I'm doing mental conditioning, to try to pull myself through these kinds of situations."

[Last modified February 20, 2004, 01:31:57]


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