Freddy Adu, 15, will reach the midway point of his rookie season today when D.C. United plays the first-place New York/New Jersey MetroStars at RFK Stadium, and although he has shown flashes of brilliance and appears more comfortable on the field than he did early in the year, he doesn't give himself high marks.

"It's been up and down, mostly down, but it's a learning experience," he said yesterday. "Coming in here, I didn't think it was going to be easy, but I kind of made it a little bit harder for myself because I was thinking too much, I was worrying about too many things at the same time and it took a lot out of me. . . . I'm looking forward to the second half of the season."

Last weekend, after playing a season-low 14 minutes at Dallas, Adu voiced his frustration with his recent lack of playing time. But after a mild reprimand from Coach Peter Nowak and constructive conversations with the coaching staff, Adu said he had his best week of practice all season.

Nowak noticed a difference.

"It was pretty good," he said. "The mentality was different. We talked about the game against Dallas, his approach to this game [today] and the approach to practice."

Added Adu: "I haven't played well. I can play soooo much better. But I felt like I've been very, very good this week in practice."

Nelsen's Future

Ryan Nelsen's immediate concern is making sure his groin injury has healed sufficiently enough to allow him to rejoin United's backline after missing two matches. But the all-star defender from New Zealand said that he couldn't help but think about his long-term future, which could be in Europe starting next year.

"Obviously, it is" on his mind, Nelsen said following workouts at RFK Stadium. "I try not to think about it, but I have to start looking at my future."

Nelsen's MLS contract, which pays him about $90,000 this year, will expire after this season. Several European teams have expressed interest in him, and "I've got a contract waiting for me in January," he said. He wouldn't reveal specifics of the offer, which is from an English club, and cautioned that complications could develop.

But asked if he thought this would be his final season with United, he said, "That's probably a question you'd have to ask [United President] Kevin Payne."

Payne said he plans to discuss a new contract soon with Nelsen and Nelsen's agent, Lyle Yorks.

"We're interested in keeping him," Payne said late yesterday. "We understand there's interest in Ryan, but obviously we're hoping he'll stay."

Perkins Rewarded

Troy Perkins, who has risen from undrafted third-string goalkeeper to United's starter, has been rewarded with a new contract. Terms were not disclosed, but Perkins said it's guaranteed through the end of this season before entering league-held option years.

It's believed he'll earn about $25,000 -- a significant increase from the $850 per month he was making as a developmental player. The paltry value of the previous contract forced him to get a job at a local sporting goods store, but with the new deal signed, he was happy to report that his last day at Galyans in Fairfax was Thursday. . . .

United officials are in discussions about traveling to Ghana at the end of the year to play at least one exhibition. Adu and Nana Kuffour, a teenage midfielder who has been waiting two months for his international clearance to be finalized, were born in Ghana. The trip might also include a stop in Libya for one or two matches.

John Obeng, a local businessman who has overseen Kuffour's stay in Washington, has enlisted the help of agent Patrick McCabe, who represents Perkins and several African players, to expedite Kuffour's case. Obeng said one more document needs to be sent from Ghana before Kuffour, who scored a superb goal in practice yesterday, can be cleared to play in MLS. . . .

The club has yet to decide whether to extend Uruguayan forward Claudio Ciccia's tryout into next week. Payne said the team continues to have interest in a pair of Argentine forwards but has also turned its attention to a Brazilian playing in Central America and is checking on the availability of a French player. He declined to reveal their names.