Even for Freddy Adus Biggest Supporter, the Time Is Right for Union to Move on

Even for Freddy Adus Biggest Supporter, the Time Is Right for Union to Move on

If you followed me on Twitter last season, or sat anywhere within earshot at PPL Park, you know I somehow found myself in a unique role among Philadelphia Union fans: the unofficial president of the Freddy Adu Defenders Club.

Adu has drawn more than his fair share of criticism since joining the Union in Aug. 2011. And yes, he definitely hasn’t lived up to his hefty price tag, which is anywhere from $400,000 to $519,000, depending which column you pick on this handy chart issued by the MLS Players Union.

My main point of contention with people who shouted him down every time he touched the ball or sailed a shot over the bar was that he was – and remains – more individually talented than any player on the field in blue and gold. That includes Sebastien Le Toux, Michael Farfan and Roger Torres.

People liked to rip on Adu because he wasn’t living up to his high salary, wasn’t scoring two goals per game, and wasn’t – in their eyes at least – playing well with his teammates. And on many occasions, that was not far from the truth.

A vast majority of Adu’s passes were – on their own – brilliant. Less than half of them, however, ever seemed to connect. Not because they were offline or poorly weighted, but because he was on a different wavelength than most of his teammates.

Whether that was because he played at a different level, wasn’t playing in his ideal position, wasn’t getting enough full 90-minute runs on the field, or wasn’t giving it his all in training is not really the point anymore. All I was trying to point out is that soccer is not basketball. You can’t just be more talented than everyone else and therefore dominate the game.

All that being said, I’m not exactly devastated that Adu is “not part of our plans going forward,” according to an E-mail from manager John Hackworth to season ticket holders Sunday night, as well as an article by Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald after Thursday's MLS SuperDraft.

Hackworth even got in a serious dig at predecessor Peter Nowak in his email to fans:

“We have a number of challenges because of moves we have made in the past couple of years that affect us long term and frankly, Freddy Adu is a major one.”

Adu seemed to not only divide Union fans, but it was pretty clear he wasn’t much of a team player. In 18 months on the roster, I can’t remember a single teammate coming out in support of Adu via a quote in the press, an offhand mention at a team appearance, or even a middle-of-the-night tweet. If you follow any Union players on Twitter, you’ll learn most of them are pretty tight and socialize often. None ever seemed to hang out with Adu.

He often tweeted about his time in Europe, his desire to go back, and – most often – himself. His #AduIT hashtag that he placed on all his tweets and constant retweets of anyone who supported him became running jokes in the small-but-passionate Union circles.

Just as I mentioned that one player cannot make a team, a player like that can undermine one – maybe not as much in the English Premier League or La Liga. But in MLS? Absolutely.

Why? Just look at that chart of player salaries again.

Imagine for a moment that, at your job, you were doing more than your fair share of work. You were selling more units, turning in more reports, or flipping more burgers per hour than anyone in the room. You were a star employee for a company that had a down year, and you made $10 an hour.

A few cubicles away was a guy who worked half-days, never said a nice thing about anyone, and always seemed to have his eye on a bigger job.

He made $50 an hour.

"You" would be Sheanon Williams ($90,500 in 2012), one of the Union’s lone bright spots last year. "He" was Freddy Adu ($519,000).

Adu’s departure won’t exactly leave a hole in the dressing room, nor will it severely impact the stat sheet (five goals, one assist in 24 games). But, the Union’s obvious desire to be done with the Adu Experiment has left the team high and dry when it comes to leverage.

Adu did not join the team at its first public workout Monday in Wayne, and will not travel to Florida for camp. According to Hackworth, the team tried to restructure Adu’s deal – i.e. pay him less – and he, understandably, said “no.” So, unlike most sports, where coaches will talk up a player and even play them more often to increase value, Hackworth has shown all his cards:

“At the moment, Freddy has not been sold nor loaned and he continues to be our player, but in reality, while we are paying his salary and while we have his rights – he is not a part of our plans going forward.  … The next step for him is one that we have been trying to work on since October, which is to see if there is a viable option to sell or loan him that makes sense for our organization and for Freddy.”

Don’t expect teams to be banging down the door for Adu’s services. Those who will call – and there will be some, I’m sure – will not give much back in return, whether it’s money (foreign sale/loan) or players (MLS trade).

The Union owe it to themselves and their fans to pick the "least-worst" offer and take it. Just be done with this saga and get it over with. Adu is a talented player, who someday may find the perfect coach and perfect teammates and perfect situation in which to thrive. But until he grows up and finds that place, his presence with the Union – even if it’s just a name on the annual salary list – will only rub people the wrong way.

Hackworth has been very quick to clear the decks of Nowak’s pet projects and PR nightmares. There are no indications he won’t do the same with Adu. His E-mail to season ticket holders was forthright, honest and refreshing.

While it may cost them transfer dollars, his willingness to push Adu aside before training camp for the sake of team chemistry should be commended. Because if this team was all about “making a buck” and not about winning trophies – a complaint I hear surprisingly often from Union fans – Hackworth would be talking up Adu and running him out there in preseason friendlies to try to boost his worth.

As much as I defended Adu, and as talented as he might be, it’s time for the Union to move on from Nowak’s experiments.

And none of those was as risky as signing Freddy Adu.

New Names
The Union added four names to the roster in the last week. The team drafted “forward” Don Anding (Northeastern) and midfielder Stephen Okai (University of Mobile) in the SuperDraft, then signed Trinidad & Tobago's Damani Richards and forward Aaron Wheeler, who last played for the awesomely-named FC KooTeePee (yes, really) in Finland.

Anding’s "forward" designation is in quotes because Hackworth said it’s more likely we’ll see him play left back, the team’s most glaring need right now, although Richards will now be a prime candidate for that spot, as well. Okai appears to be a prototypical holding midfielder, a la Amobi Okugo.

The Union will likely add a few more names this week as they acquired the Nos. 12 and 17 picks in the Supplemental Draft.

Unlike most other sports – with their Mel Kipers and endless draft-day analysis – there isn’t much to know about names in the SuperDraft or even free agent signings. I won’t pretend to know too much about them without seeing them in person. Just learn the names and look at the faces so you can impress your friends when the team breaks camp next month.

The season opener is a short 40 days away.

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas (cq) Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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