D.C. United's Freddy Adu had grumbled about his playing time periodically since signing with MLS almost two years ago. But yesterday, during a startling interview session three days before the club's playoff opener, the 16-year-old forward's frustration with Coach Peter Nowak boiled over, and he suggested that he might be better off playing elsewhere next season.
"It's funny because I've been playing so well in practice," he said. "I felt so good at training, but come game time, I'm sitting on the bench. I'm just like, 'Man, it [stinks].' That's the kind of thing that is out of your hands. You can't really do anything about it. It's out of your control. All you can control is you and what you do. It [stinks] that I'm in this situation."
Adu, who attracted worldwide attention by signing with MLS at age 14 before the 2004 season, played in every regular season game for which he was available this year (25) and started most of them (16).
He is tied for fourth on the team in goals with four and is fourth in assists with six. Of the 22 field players who have appeared in a league game for United this year, he ranks ninth in minutes played.
But after scoring a spectacular goal at Salt Lake City on Oct. 5 and starting again three days later against the MetroStars, he came off the bench at the beginning of the second half this past weekend in the regular season finale against Columbus and didn't have much impact.
"I got [MLS] player of the week, and the next week I'm sitting on the bench," Adu said. "I'm like, 'What is going on here?'
"It's frustrating at times when you think you've earned a chance to play on the field and you're over there sitting on the bench. That's not the kind of player I am. I'm the kind of player who wants to be out there on the field and needs to contribute every minute of every game. I'm not saying I should play 90 minutes every single game, but I am saying that I should definitely play a lot more than I've gotten to play."
Told of Adu's comments, Nowak said: "We give everybody a fair chance. We have players who play on the U.S. national team who sometimes don't play on our team. This is not a surprise for anybody; this is what we've been doing for two years.
"He is not playing for me. He is playing for the team and this organization. We're not going to put anyone above the team."
Adu, born in Ghana and raised in Montgomery County after his family immigrated in 1997, is the third highest-paid player in the league with total compensation at $550,000. Endorsement deals have pushed his earnings to more than $1 million per year.
Last season, in which he became the centerpiece of the fledgling league and drew big crowds to almost every United road game, Adu played in all 30 matches. He started 14 times and finished with five goals and three assists. However, after a midseason game in Dallas, he voiced frustration about playing time; he quickly apologized.
Early this season, he again expressed disappointment about his situation -- but not with as much intensity as yesterday's remarks.
United President Kevin Payne said he fully supports Nowak and the way the second-year coach has handled the club's young star.
"The issue with Freddy is that he's on a good team and he's competing for playing time with very good players," Payne said. "There are not enough starting positions to go around. I don't think his situation would be any different if he were playing for one of his dream clubs like Chelsea or Manchester United. They happen to have some good players, too."
Adu's ambition is to play for a major European club, but international rules forbid him from signing a contract overseas until he turns 18 (in June 2007). However, he said yesterday that he has thought about playing for another MLS team.
"It becomes very, very, very, very tempting to look ahead and, as a matter of fact, I'm doing that right now," he said. "I always have to make the best decision for myself first, and I'm just looking into things right now. . . . I've been in this league for two years and it's just been the same. I love the guys on this team. I don't want to leave. I'm not saying I am going to leave -- I'm not -- but you always have to look ahead and see what the best situation is for yourself first."
Asked about her son's comments, Emelia Adu said: "He couldn't hold back any longer. It's been hard for him. The family doesn't want to rush into anything, so we're waiting until the end of the season and we'll talk to the agents. They're working on it. Freddy told me he can't be in this situation another season."
Richard Motzkin, Adu's Los Angeles-based agent, did not return phone calls.
Adu also believes his hopes of making the 2006 U.S. World Cup squad have been jeopardized by his situation with United.
"That has definitely killed my chances," he said. U.S. Coach Bruce Arena "has said it a million times -- that he's not going to bring anybody in that's not playing regularly for his club team. I'm screwed in that sense, I'm definitely screwed. That was definitely a goal of mine, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen now, does it?"