U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena said yesterday that he will probably invite D.C. United teenager Freddy Adu to training camp in January, the first formal preparations for the 2006 World Cup.

"There's a strong likelihood he'll be at camp," Arena said. "He has shown a lot of progress and we need to take a look at him."

However, in the aftermath of Adu's complaints this week about his playing time with United, Arena added a caveat: "He won't be [invited] if he keeps running his mouth and tries to punch out his coach."

On Tuesday, during an interview session at RFK Stadium, Adu said he thought his chances of making the U.S. squad had been damaged by United Coach Peter Nowak's decision to not include him in the starting lineup more often this year.

Nowak and some United players were disappointed with Adu's remarks, which came just a few days before the start of the MLS playoffs.

Being invited to the first U.S. camp of the year does not mean Adu will be on the 23-man World Cup team. Far from it, actually. Most of the two dozen players who will report to Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., will be from MLS teams that are in their offseason. Most of Arena's European-based players will remain with their clubs as league play reaches the midway point of the season.

The decision to consider Adu was made prior to his statements this week.

The camp would provide Adu, who has played for the under-20 and under-17 national teams at the world championships, his first official stint with the senior squad. The U.S. team is tentatively scheduled to play two friendlies in late January and two more in mid-February.

Commenting on the controversy involving Adu's playing time with United, Arena said: "Freddy is going to be a very good player. I just wish people would be more patient. The adults around him are causing the problem. They need to show some patience and allow the kid to grow up, on the field and off the field."

Arena commended Nowak for the way he has overseen Adu's development but reiterated his criticism of MLS and United. "The league and United have done a disservice [to Adu] in how they've dealt with the publicity surrounding his signing and being in the league," he said. "It should have been handled better."

Staff writer George Solomon contributed to this report.