For Adu, MLS Not The Promised Land

By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Freddy Adu ought to be upset. He was played, as the kids say . . . played as in used, manipulated and lied to. We all were played, really. Maybe MLS doesn't think we remember the sweet promises when it signed Adu almost two years ago. But how can we forget; the promises were grand and breathless, to the point of unforgettable.

The league and his team, D.C. United, said Adu was a prodigy and that people should stop what they were doing to buy tickets to see him play. They took out ads.

MLS and United put Adu on the cover of media guides. They put him in television commercials. Adu's first game was carried on network television. They sold tickets to people based not necessarily on how successful United would be but how fabulous the prodigy would be.

Way too often, it's like going to see "The Producers" without Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. No, you don't always go to see the team, even if it's a championship team; you go to see the star.

The league and the club sold the star, and for the most part they have failed to deliver. Of course, Adu is disappointed. We should all be . . . for being played. The league and the team, at the very least, are guilty of false advertising. It's reasonable to suggest they've perpetrated a fraud.

Let's review what the league's position was when Adu was drafted. "Not one person in the world soccer industry, from all the naysayers in this country to every major soccer team in Europe, thought that we would sign Freddy," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "This says strongly that we are serious about the business of growing the sport of soccer in this country."

The league's deputy commissioner, Ivan Gazidis, who was critical to the negotiations with Adu, said: "Freddy is a supremely talented young player, probably the best young player in the world. . . . For us Freddy is a unique and precious jewel."

See, when I hear "growing the sport of soccer in this country" and "Freddy is a unique and precious jewel" I'm not expecting to arrive at the stadium to see Adu on the bench. You don't make a 14-year-old one of the highest-paid players in your league for what he might do down the line.

Clearly, the league expected him to deliver, to some degree, right now.

When the commissioner and his deputy (who I'm certain meant every word of what they said) talked so glowingly of Adu's impact, they weren't just addressing the 16,000 people who were already buying United tickets; they were talking to tens of thousands of more casual sports fans they hoped would allow the prodigy to introduce them to soccer.

The soccer people who don't like reading a critical word about their sport can save their e-mails, because this isn't about soccer as much as it is about keeping your promise, about truth in advertising, about bait-and-switch tactics. I know, I know, I promised you Adu . . . but you'll be happy with a winning team, right? No, not necessarily.

United had already won championships. The promise was to, as Garber said, "grow the sport." You think it's going to grow very much when the prodigy is sitting on the bench much of the time? You think a guy is going to bring his family back if he heeds the league's call to come watch Adu, then can't see him?

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