"My expectations are to crack into the starting lineup," he said. "I don't want to be the kind of player that comes into every game and plays 20 or 25 minutes. That's not me. I want to play. I am very competitive and I want to be out there on the field helping the team out."
Cautioned Nowak: "We know that he grew up, we know he is a better soccer player, a better team player and a better human being. The whole process has made him better. But expectations are one thing, reality is another thing. It's very difficult to change anything major in our lineup, but Freddy is doing his best to make the starting 11."
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.
Adu seems more mature and confident after his topsy-turvy first year, more willing to express himself on the field and demonstrate the creativity that helped turn him into one of the most promising young players in the world.
He, Moawad and the United staff got together recently while the team was training in Bradenton "to make sure Freddy's expectations were in line with the team's expectations," Moawad said. "We talked a lot about how to take the next step" and contribute more to the team.
"Right now, I am riding high on confidence," Adu said. "Once you get a year under your belt and you get a championship and your teammates accept you, your confidence skyrockets because everyone is behind you. So if you work your butt off, you should be fine. The guys have been great. They're like, 'You know what, Freddy, just play your game.' It got to the point last year where I was playing not to make mistakes. That's not me. I play to take chances, I take people on. That's exactly what I've been doing this preseason."
Another young D.C. player, third-year forward Alecko Eskandarian, has noticed a difference in Adu since the 2004 preseason.
"He's a lot more mature, no question about it," he said. "He realizes what it takes, and he's doing great. He's not getting frustrated anymore. He's going out there and having fun. Last year it was like, 'Where is he going to play? Can he handle it physically?' He can definitely handle it and now it's a matter of him finding his spot."
Adu will also likely benefit from fewer off-field distractions. He is still the most popular player in MLS -- he recently did a photo shoot with teenage pop star Hilary Duff in New York and was summoned to Los Angeles by Nike -- and his personal life is sure to change with the arrival of a learner's permit and subsequent driver's license. But the commercial and promotional demands won't be nearly as intense this year, now that the novelty has worn off a bit, and soccer will once again be his primary focus.
"He's bigger, he's stronger, he's more mentally tough and he's a winner," Moawad said. "Everything is in place for him to have a successful year. Knowing what he's gone through this offseason, I know he will do it."