Is Freddy Ready to Take His Ball and Go Somewhere Else?

D.C. United's Freddy Adu, center, tries to work the ball between Chicago's Jesse Marsch, left, and Jack Stewart.
D.C. United's Freddy Adu, center, tries to work the ball between Chicago's Jesse Marsch, left, and Jack Stewart. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Monday, October 31, 2005

Just call him Freddy Adieu .

In the most hideous performance at RFK Stadium since Frank Robinson let Cristian Guzman hit, D.C. United lost its chance to defend its championship, and perhaps its 16-year-old sapling of a soccer star.

Boy, what a flameout. The Chicago Fire beat down the MLS Cup champs from a year ago by the score of 4-0 yesterday, which is like losing 36-0 in the NFL.

(What a dreadful day for the District's football and futbol teams, no? Shut out by a combined score of 40-0. A city weeps. The Vikings score more on their off days.) What's more, Adu could go bye-bye.

"No one is coming out and saying it, but Freddy is not going to play here next year," Eric Wynalda said.

Wynalda is the Sean Salisbury of soccer announcers, a bit of a blowhard but very familiar with the inner workings of his sport. He is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history. When Wynalda says, "My feeling is, Freddy is going to be in New York next season," well, you get the feeling the kid's junior prom next May might not be at the Rockville Pike Econo Lodge.

Kevin Payne, the United team president, said: "Eric has no clue. What does he know?" Furthermore, Payne said he planned to have Adu on his roster next year and that the league had no say in it. Payne added that Freddy's best chance to develop his trade was still in the District.

But gauging by the comments by Adu's agent in yesterday's Post that strongly hinted at discord between his client and the team, and gauging by the fact that the club exercised an option on Peter Nowak's contract for 2006, according to Payne -- thereby making it unlikely that United would ever choose the teen wunderkind over its seething coach -- the kid may be on his way out of town.

A week after Adu was suspended for failing to apologize for comments detrimental to the team (he essentially said he might want to play elsewhere and blamed Nowak for hurting his chances to represent the United States in the 2006 World Cup), Adu was the first United player to jump the barrier between the field and fans at game's end. He thanked them profusely, as if he was saying goodbye for more than a season.

After playing a decent second half with his team down 2-0 before he came in, Freddy did not want to talk to the media. Which made sense, if only because that got him in trouble the last time.

Either way, if Freddymania is fizzling, at least this whole saga puts to rest the rumors about Adu's age. Like any 16-year-old, he can't stand his elders and he speaks before he thinks.

Would it be a great loss if Freddy left? Yes. Adu in the open pitch is still one of the great thrills in the game. He is only going to get better.

But here's what the observers from afar don't seem to get: This is not Kobe vs. Phil, where the coach goes and the star stays.

Whether Adu plays, the team's core fans come to see the match -- not the kid. They don't feel taken when a child the league marketed intensely has to wait his turn; except for the attendance bump on the road for much of last season, United's attendance has leveled off. With or without Adu, the team will draw in the neighborhood of 15,000 next year.

The crowd wasn't yelling "We want Freddy" after that sorry first half. Yes, the team would lose some of its casual fans if Adu left. But how many casual fans showed during the endless summer of games? The MLS started the same weekend as baseball and will end three weeks later. Soccer zealots or no, football, baseball and the NBA kill any real interest the sport could generate from the average fan this time of year.

And if this was Freddy's farewell, it was not pretty. Normally placid United midfielder Christian Gomez spat on a player and was ejected. Some of the team's more unruly fans showed what a family sport soccer is, chanting obscenities at the ref.

Makes you want to load the minivan up with the Dixie Cups, cones and balls, huh?

Near the end, Freddy even got chippy. He came at a Chicago player from the side, kicked his cleats up and nailed the guy in the knee as he was on the run. Yellow card. The 14-year-old who became the youngest team sport athlete in a century -- seemingly poised with a charm befitting most college upperclassmen -- had lost his cool again.

Nowak wasn't much better. Sometimes, Nowak comes across as the proverbial Eastern European manly man. The halting accent. The utter disdain for the media. That great personal flexibility, in which there are two ways to do things: Nowak's way and the wrong way.

Other times, he just looks like a lot less.

Take yesterday. He took a sarcastic shot at the media for the coverage of his team. He seemed to believe everyone in the room had an agenda, and that agenda was to bring him down. You almost felt sorry for him.

"You can't criticize Nowak for his consistency," Wynalda said. "He's been consistently a jerk to a lot of different people since he's been here. And for him it's worked. He's winning."

Nowak has won, instilling a discipline and a hit-first demeanor that United had lost since the franchise won three of the first four MLS Cups. But last night, his players went out as downtrodden and defeated as a defending champion could.

If Freddy is gone and more leadership along the lines of Earnie Stewart or Ryan Nelsen is not added in the offseason, the coach may not be far behind.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company