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.
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.
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.