The first thing you'll notice about the new Freddy Adu is his hair -- it's growing out and getting a little puffy. His D.C. United coaches and teammates tease him, bouncing the palms of their hands off it. His mother winces when she sees it.
"I call him 'Ugly Hair,' " Emelia Adu said, hiding a smile. "He should get a haircut."
Freddy Adu, 15, hopes to crack the starting lineup for this coming season.
(Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
What: Champions Cup quarterfinals, first leg.
Opponent: Harbour View (Jamaica).
When: Wednesday, 7:30.
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex, Germantown.
The hair is not the only change. In the 3 1/2 months since helping United win the MLS championship as a wildly publicized rookie, the 15-year-old Adu has undergone a startling physical transformation. He said he has added 15 pounds since the end of last season, going from 130 to 145 pounds. His chest and shoulders are wider and more defined, his upper legs bulkier.
The plan is to add five more pounds onto his 5-foot-6 frame before United's league opener April 2 against the Los Angeles expansion team, Chivas USA. Adu's first serious test will come Wednesday at Maryland SoccerPlex against Harbour View of Jamaica in the first leg of an international tournament quarterfinal.
"I don't know how I did it, really -- just hard work," he said this week after team workouts at the chilly RFK Stadium auxiliary fields. "I did a lot of weightlifting, twice a day, working with conditioning people, and I've been eating a lot better, vegetables and salads, stuff like that. I hated that stuff before."
Adu's offseason work began in mid-November, three days after United had defeated the Kansas City Wizards, 3-2, at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., to win its first MLS Cup title in five years.
Adu, United's third-leading scorer last year with five goals, headed to IMG Academies, the vast sports training facility in Bradenton, Fla., where he had lived as part of a U.S. soccer residency program before signing with MLS in November 2003. He began an intensive conditioning program used by many elite athletes, such as Olympic track and field star Michael Johnson and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich, that resulted in him adding significant lean muscle mass.
According to Trevor Moawad, a mental conditioning coach at IMG, Adu put on 12 pounds in 12 days in Bradenton. But what impressed Moawad most was Adu's work ethic.
"I remember being in United's locker room after they won the championship and I could see how excited Freddy was," Moawad said. "But he also said, 'I know I can be so much better next year.' It says a lot that, after a 10-month season and all he went through as a rookie, he took two days off and got down here to get back to work."
Adu is starting to notice the benefits of increased strength. In United's preseason exhibitions, he hasn't been getting shoved aside by larger opponents like he often was last year. He is also a little faster, bigger leg muscles providing greater acceleration, he said.
"He's bigger and stronger, but we're not looking to get Arnold Schwarzenegger," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "We're looking to get the soccer player Freddy Adu. He has to grow naturally, but he also has to do this stuff in the weight room to get stronger. I think it has been good for him and it will help him grow as a soccer player."
Adu realizes he must do a lot to maintain his strength, such as shedding his finicky eating habits and trying meals other than his favorite -- mom's Jollof Rice -- when he's at home in Rockville. He's also working out on his own and receiving guidance from United's fitness staff.
"I've got to plan how to keep that weight on," he said. "You've still got to eat right and just keep yourself in condition. I have some weights at home now, so I'm still doing it. But I'm not doing it too much because I don't want to get too big and get a little slower."
Adu, who will turn 16 in June, has also worked with Moawad on his mental preparation after a sometimes frustrating rookie season in which Nowak carefully regulated Adu's playing time and limited him to 14 starts in 30 regular season games. On a championship team that has back most of its players, there are no guarantees he will become a full-time starter.