DC United's Freddy Adu moves the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium in Washington April 3, 2004. In late June, Freddy Adu was an agitated teenager after playing just a handful of minutes in a D.C. United game at Dallas. "You can't do anything to help your team win when you don't play," Adu said after the game. "I'm a little frustrated, I'm not going to lie." Afterward, Adu turned the corner. He started to look more comfortable and confident, more accepting of his role as a rookie on a major league team. Adu realized that, despite the hoopla, he wasn't destined to set the world on fire in his first MLS season.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File
WASHINGTON In late June, Freddy Adu was an agitated teenager after playing just a handful of minutes in a D.C. United game at Dallas.
''You can't do anything to help your team win when you don't play,'' Adu said after the game. ''I'm a little frustrated, I'm not going to lie.''
Shortly afterward, Trevor Moawad, Adu's longtime mental conditioning coach at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., paid a visit to Washington and gave mixed reviews of the first few games played by the youngest U.S. major league athlete in more than a century.
''I put together a video for him that was pretty candid,'' Moawad said. ''It went through some good moments of the season and went through some bad moments of the season. I was really focusing on his body language and his facial expressions.''
Afterward, Adu turned the corner. He started to look more comfortable and confident, more accepting of his role as a rookie on a major league team. Adu realized that, despite the hoopla, he wasn't destined to set the world on fire in his first MLS season.
He had a stronger second half, taking advantage of his limited playing time when not getting the occasional start because of injuries. Adu, who turned 15 in June, finished the regular season with five goals and three assists, including two assists in the final game.
''I was just terrible the first half of the season,'' Adu said. ''I was just no good, and I just look back and I laugh at myself. What was I doing? Why was I scared? Why wasn't I doing this? Why wasn't I doing that? But you know what? The team helped me out, my coaches, and me personally. I set some goals for myself, saying that the second half of the season I am going to go out there and just play my game. And I did that.''
Adu ended up with 14 starts and was one of only two United players to appear in all 30 regular-season games, even though frequently his time on the field was short. His confidence was brimming as the team prepared for Saturday's opening-round playoff game against the MetroStars.
''Oh, now I'm straight,'' Adu said. ''Before, it was like I didn't know what to expect and all that stuff, but now I feel like I'm there now.''
The key, according to Moawad, was a subtle attitude adjustment.
''Early on in the season, his focus was more on the 60 minutes he didn't play,'' Moawad said. ''In the last half of the season, it was more focused on the minutes he was in there. It's a small difference, but it's crucial to having positive emotions as opposed to negative emotion.''
The change is evident just from watching United at practice. Adu seemed out of place at the workouts early in the season, but now he fits in as one of the gang, joking with coaches and teammates when he's not slicing through defenders. He even has the responsibility of serving as translator to teammate Nana Kuffour, another Ghanaian-born player who signed during the season.
''He's grown up,'' captain Ryan Nelsen said. ''He's got a season under his belt now. He knows what he can do and what he can't do.''
Adu was also helped by a midseason decision to scale back on his off-field activities. Between the repetitive interviews and community appearances and endorsement obligations, Adu was just getting too busy.
''It definitely made a difference because it allowed his focus to be more on playing,'' Moawad said. ''There were days early in the season when every day he was doing something. That's a lot to ask of an Eli Manning, let alone someone who is eight years younger.''
A different kind of off-field behavior got Adu his only real negative publicity of the year. The Diamondback, an independent student newspaper at the University of Maryland, quoted students as saying they witnessed the underaged Adu drinking at various keg parties on campus on a Saturday night in September. The story was an embarrassment for United and Adu, and the team reminded the teenager of a edict he was given before the season began: Celebrity comes with a price.
''When you're in commercials, when you're on TV, when you're in the limelight, people are going to watch you a lot more than they watch other people,'' Moawad said. ''I think that's something he's learned throughout this year, and I think he'll continue to learn that.''
On the field, Adu still looks tiny compared to the players around him, and he plans to report to Bradenton within a week after the playoffs end to hit the weights. He was fouled 50 times in the regular season, third highest on the team despite his limited playing time. That included a scary tackle that upended him and left with a mild shoulder sprain last weekend.
If Adu, listed at 5-foot-8, 140 pounds, adds more muscle, next season could be the breakout year everyone is expecting.
''All I have to do is just work in the offseason,'' Adu said, ''and hopefully come next year and have a much better season.''
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