Tue, Mar 30, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Freddy Adu sets US soccer on fire

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

With his Major League Soccer (MLS) debut just days away, everyone has a piece of advice for Freddy Adu.

His mother, team mates, coach Peter Nowak, MLS Cup MVP Landon Donovan, even Pele, to whom he is being compared, have all offered guidance to the 14-year-old American prodigy who is due to make his much-anticipated professional debut on Saturday in front of a national television audience.

"I've looked up to[Pele] ever since I started playing this sport, I had to savor it," Adu said of the advice he had received from the Brazilian.

"He told me to just keep my head and play because a lot of people are going to demand a lot out of your time and want a piece of you, but as long as you keep head on the field and just play and do what you need to do to get better and help your team win, that is the most important thing."

With the approach of the league season's opening match in Washington between Adu's team, DC United, and defending champions San Jose Earthquakes, the demands on the teenaged forward's time have increased.

He faces constant requests for interviews and photographs, promotional duties for his team and the MLS plus responsibilities to a growing stable of sponsors who include Nike and a soft-drinks company.

This week Adu, who will become the youngest professional player in modern American team sports history when he takes to the field against the Earthquakes, is being featured in Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated magazines and will be profiled on the CBS television programme 60 Minutes.

The player, whose family emigrated from Ghana seven years ago, is being hailed as the savior of US soccer and lives with comparisons to the National Basketball Association's newest teenage phenomenon LeBron James.

But if the burden and pressure of those expectations weigh heavily on Adu's slender shoulders they are undetectable in his voice as he excitedly looks forward to his first game in a United jersey.

"I guess we [James and Adu] are kind of in the same situation except I'm not making US$90 million," said Adu, who will be the MLS's best-paid player, earning US$500,000 in salary and bonuses.

"I don't really think of it like that. I just want to go in and do what I need to do to help my team win and to better myself as a player. Everything else will take care of itself.

"I'm not coming out here to become the savior of American soccer," the teenager told reporters.

"I've been waiting for this moment for the longest time and it's finally here. I'm not nervous, I'm just anxious; I'm anxious to get out there to play and have fun because when I'm on the soccer field that's when I'm at my happiest."

Nowak, who played in the German Bundesliga, knows something of the pressure Adu is about to face, having made his own professional debut as a 15-year-old. He has tried to shield the youngster from the distractions as much as possible.

"You cannot compare my debut with Freddy's debut," said Nowak. "I told him be yourself -- be Freddy -- not the savior of US soccer.

"He's supposed to be a young kid who loves the game and playing soccer.

"Freddy is going to play, show what he can do on the field and then everyone is going to respect the way he plays.

"It's a lot of pressure, of course, but Freddy is very smart and he understands what his role is on this team.

"I would say I never saw a player like Freddy at his age in my life. But we'll still evaluate his talent and we still need to work on a daily basis because we want to make sure that Freddy is going to get better and someday that he has all the tools to be one of the best players in the world."

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