Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Freddy Adu bursts on to the American scene in New York

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Freddy Adu is mature far beyond his 14 years.

When he makes a spin move on the soccer field, he leaves opponents chomping on the turf, real or artificial.

Adu is also mature in the complicated world of New York news conferences. On Wednesday he signed with Major League Soccer, graciously thanking his mother and everybody else who had helped him along the way.

"The 46-year-old commissioner needed notes, but the 14-year-old player did not," announced Don Garber, the commissioner of the league.

Afterward, Adu was catching a bite to eat in a private room. Sitting next to him was his mother, Emelia, who brought him over from Ghana when he was 9 for the normal survivor reasons people seek out the US.

His mother tells him what to do. For the foreseeable future, he will live at home in suburban Maryland, on her say-so. In return, as man of the house, he protects her.

Emelia Adu does not give interviews. That was the word on Wednesday after she discreetly slipped out of the crowded news conference. Nevertheless, when I was ushered into the private room to be introduced, I tried my luck with a question about her high standards for her son. She smiled politely, sweetly, but no words came out.

Freddy Adu, all 5 feet 8 inches and 140 pounds, stood up and intervened, turning the awkward moment into a joke.

"People ask her questions and she freezes," he said, smiling at her, smiling at me, bringing us together in the glow of his presence. Every mother should have a son like this at her side, and vice versa.

Adu may indeed be one of a kind, just as the people in U.S. soccer dare to dream for him, for them.

He has been a golden boy since he showed up for a mass practice in Washington five years ago. People gasped at his moves, which he learned playing barefoot from the age of 2 in Tema, Ghana. Growing up in a world that knows and loves soccer, he saw photos of Pele and Diego Armando Maradona, and he wanted to be like them.

"We had a tryout for 13-year-olds to go to France," recalled Kevin Payne, a former general manager for D.C. United. One youngster impressed Payne so much that he telephoned Bruce Arena, the United coach at the time, and said, "Bruce, you have to come out here and watch this kid."

Later they found out Adu was only 9. He was just in from Ghana, where his mother had won a government lottery for the right to apply to emigrate to the United States, having nothing whatsoever to do with soccer. Suddenly, he became Ghana's great gift to the United States.

Arena is now the national team coach, who just may consider Adu for the next World Cup in 2006. New international soccer rules made it difficult for the great clubs of Europe to sign Adu and use him in senior competition, but it was a moot point. His mother wanted him to finish high school, which he will do in May, and she wanted him where she could keep an eye on him for the apparent four years of his new contract.

During the news conference on Wednesday, video monitors played endless loops of Freddy Adu highlight clips. In white jerseys, blue jerseys and green workout vests, he swivel-hipped his way through defenders of all nations.

"Incredible ball control," said Mark Noonan, an executive vice president for MLS, who played for Duke when it won the national college championship in 1986.

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