In many ways, Emelia Adu is a typical soccer mom. She gives her teenage son, Freddy, rides to and from practice in her sport-utility vehicle, cheers him on at games and worries about him getting hurt.
But Emelia also holds responsibilities more befitting of a campaign manager than the mother of a teen. The single mom helps oversee her son's burgeoning finances, answers his fan mail from around the world, arranges some of his appearances and sometimes accompanies him to big events.
"She and I are one," said Freddy, whose father left the family shortly after they emigrated from West Africa in 1997. "We're in this together. I just want to make her happy. She's done a lot to get me here and that's what drives me to be a better person and a better player. She's the reason I'm here right now."
Emelia operated a convenience store in Tema, Ghana, but after coming to the United States, she worked two jobs to support Freddy and his younger brother, Fro. When Freddy signed his fat contract with MLS last winter, she decided to leave her position at Home Depot, the last of several retail positions.
These days, she can be found at the RFK Stadium training grounds watching United practices or on the mezzanine level of the stadium for MLS games. During one recent practice, she sat in the bleachers opening letters and cards, including one from a fan in Indiana congratulating Freddy on his high school graduation, and going through a folder full of documents and schedules. Her cell phone was constantly buzzing.
Freddy's support system also includes agents in Bethesda (Dan Segal) and Los Angeles (Richard Motzkin), a family adviser (Arnold Tarzy) and two communications experts (Carie Goldberg, who works with Motzkin; and United's vice president of communications, Doug Hicks).
What are Emelia's impressions of Freddy's rookie season?
"He's the same Freddy; he hasn't changed," said Emelia, who rarely grants interviews. "There was a little frustration [when he wasn't playing as much as he'd like], but we talked about it and he always listens to me. Different people give him different advice -- you should do this, you should do that -- and he just needed to stop listening to all of the voices. He needed to be himself and be happy."
She often jokes that she can't wait for Freddy to get his driver's license next year so she won't have to schlep him to Washington every day from their home in Montgomery County. She also has to provide rides for Fro, 13, a promising defender at Georgetown Prep.
Emelia is used to giving her sons advice, but strangers sometimes ask her for tips as well. She has received phone calls and letters from other single moms who want to know how she raised such a well-spoken and polite teenager.
"I don't have any secrets," she said with a laugh. "We respect each other and he's a good boy, such a good boy."