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Fixing Freddy

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

If we could put an ear up to Freddy Adu and listen to his inner voice, what would we hear?

A supreme confidence, no doubt. And who can blame Adu for being a confident young man? For all the hype, there have always been doubters. A fourteen year old has to shield himself from the fear somehow.

But more important for Union fans: Would Adu be thinking about his play? Would he recognize what he has become?

Freddy Adu, at 22 years old, has seen the game has pass him by.

A stationary dribbler

Barely able to drink and Adu is already a throwback. While other young players were raised to be the post-Ronaldinho generation—passing, passing, passing, moving—Adu was already mixing with the big boys, honing his stepovers and holding the ball until the perfect run presented itself.

On Sunday, Kyle Martino warbled that Freddy Adu was at his best running at defenders with confidence. But Freddy Adu doesn’t do this. He creeps towards defenders like a spider hunting hobbits. And in the same way Frodo was oblivious to the war brewing as he traveled, Adu is tuned out to the game around him.

His qualities

Ball control and a good cross. Speed? Only if the other players are in an instant replay. So why would Freddy Adu want to run at people? How many players in all of MLS can consistently beat their defender one-on-one so consistently that an isolation play is beneficial to the team?

The Union only have one, and it’s not Freddy Adu.

Instead, the young midfielder’s skills suggest he should be a distributor. A quick, efficient one at that, with an eye for switching fields or finding the occasional Hollywood through ball. Adu’s model should be David Beckham, not Brek Shea.

Beckham’s first thought is always to get rid of the ball. If he takes a while, it’s to find a better pass, not to take someone on. Watch a Galaxy match, and observe the movement off the ball when Beckham looks up. Everybody knows that the right run will get them picked out and on their way.

Now watch a Union match. See the hesitating, staccato runs when Adu has the ball. Will he look up this time? Or will he listen to the Wormtongue in his ear, telling him he’s at his best dribbling at defenders? We all know the answer to these questions.

The final flaw

Adu has never flourished in that midfield distributor role because he lacks tactical discipline. Defensive midfielders require one thing of the creator: Be predictable. On defense, retreat to your zone, push play the right way, and—sweet sassy molassy—don’t turn the ball over in the middle. A creator earns that title by being that much better than everyone else with the ball. He allows the rest of the team to cheat a little: Fullbacks push higher, holding middies come square, strikers stretch a defense.

In short, since everyone trusts the creator to keep the ball, they take chances.

Adu does lose the ball in midfield. Additionally, he has not shown interest in being a team player on defense. His one start in the middle this year saw him pushing up to the defensive line, leaving a gap so large that it could have been a metaphor for the gulf between Adu’s salary and that of the team’s regular contributors.

So he can’t play centrally. And he can’t be a traditional winger. This is why Adu has been pushed wide, but only flourished when defenders back off and let him play balls into the middle. It worked fairly well for him on the U-23 team. But MLS defenders are a headstrong breed, and they come at a full gallop. Thus, time and again, Adu leaves the field in the 63rd minute with a single free kick, or one extended dribbling display his only legacy.

Change has to come

So Freddy: Ignore the Martinos who tell you to take people on. Forget Rigby’s keys to the game, that suggest you need the ball early and often. This isn’t your show.

You are not driving this train. Michael Farfan is.

You can, however, be the fuel that makes the train hit top speed. Move the ball quickly. Work hard, hard, to find space for yourself off the ball. Not running in behind, but wide or moving inside. Anywhere you can go that will let you pick your head up and find McInerney or Hoppenot streaking through. All you need is a moment to pick out the Sheanomenon up the wing.

But that has to be your goal: Get the ball, get rid of it. Do it with more length and precision than others can.

You are not the player you think you are.

But you can be a very good one. Contemporary soccer is about ball movement. It’s the style your coach embraces. It’s the style of your generation.

The next wave of kids, today’s fourteen-year-olds, may be learning how to play in a post-Xavi system. One of them might spearhead the next evolutionary step in soccer’s development. But the current game belongs to the quick pass, the team movement, and the creator who, more than anything else, keeps the ball moving.

Can you figure that out? Or, at 22 years old, are you too much a part of the Ronaldinho generation to adapt?

If we could listen to your inner voice, would we hear a stubborn insistence on “playing your game,” or a true soccer mind unafraid to speak the truth?

We can’t really hear what you’re thinking. So you have to show us.


  1. Excellent stuff – I completely agree.

  2. I totally agree with this. Freddy would be a more dangerous player if he stuck with smart plays over the flashy ones.

  3. i am not sure michael farfan has driven anything lately. how many goals and assists does he have the last month. our offense has been coming from our defense and thats a problem.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I disagree with this point of view. Michael Farfan absolutely has been driving. Just because he isn’t scoring or having the primary assist doesn’t mean he’s not creating nearly every Union scoring chance. When Garf or Sheanon break free, its generally from a Michael Farfan pass. He is doing exactly what young #10 needs to be doing. And once the Union find a more consistent third midfielder to join him and BC, he will excel at an even higher level.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        It’s pretty fair to replace “find a more consistent third midfielder” with “play Okugo at CMid once Soumare is fully fit.”

  4. Great stuff.

    I would like to see the Union try a 4-2-3-1:

    Of course with Adu playing the passer as you elegantly pointed out. If he can’t evolve in that role by season end than Union should look past him (first alternate is Gomez in the CAM).

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      i think you’re missing the point of the article. it says Adu IS NOT a CAM. gomez certainly isn’t either.

      • I’m pretty sure I read it right. I really liked how the article provided nice supporting evidence instead of just making terse blanket statements (hint, hint)

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Smug. I like it. I’m referring directly to this sentence, “So he can’t play centrally.” I agree that Adu cannot play centrally. The section entitled “The Final Flaw” outlines why he can’t play centrally in depth.

      • Okay, I focused on the solution/change has to come:
        “Not running in behind, but wide or moving inside. Anywhere you can go that will let you pick your head up and find McInerney or Hoppenot streaking through. All you need is a moment to pick out the Sheanomenon up the wing. But that has to be your goal: Get the ball, get rid of it. Do it with more length and precision than others can.”
        To me this fits the mold of a CAM. As long as he doesn’t drift out of position and indeed focuses on distributing.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I think we’re both in the same place with our frustration. I personally like Michael Farfan in the no. 10 slot and would rather see Adu perfect the wide role or take a seat on the bench. I just see too many holes in his game for him to ever be an elite centrally located playmaker. He was soaring in the Olympic qualifier tournament when he played wide and sliced dangerous balls through the defense. I want to see him do that all day.

      • James Korman says:

        What position does Gavilan play for his national team?

        And what position did Adu thrive at when he was with DC?

        Let’s try not to recreate the wheel here!

  5. As soon as Wormtongue was mentioned, I knew Adam had written this. He’s also right. Shame Adu won’t listen. Isn’t it crazy that Adu and Jozy Altidore are the same age? Just shows that Adu has plenty of time to turn it around, but I’m not sure he has the mental game to do it.

  6. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Has Adu actually played CAM for us though? Certainly not this year, I think.
    And while it’s clear he is a turnover machine on the wing and is a generally bad player, do we actually know for sure how bad he would be at CAM?
    Maybe we stick him there, Hackworth tells him to instead of trying to run at players he can sit in holes and make those passes. Maybe the tactical differences in playing that position make it less likely for the bad Freddy to show?

    • July 14 against Montreal. Adu was in the middle with Marfan out. He spent the entire first half pushed much higher than the other two CMs and left at halftime due to, I believe, an injury. Pajoy came on for him.

      Long story short: He did not grab that opportunity.


    • No we haven’t played a CAM under Hack’s 4-3-3.

      • I stand corrected.

        Adam, was the 4-2-3-1 formation tried only in that game? Or is this something that Hack has used other times this year? I honestly don’t recall seeing it on the pitch.

      • With Adu and Pajoy on the wings, the team’s defensive shape has resembled a 4-2-3-1 more than a 4-3-3. McInerney pressures high and the second wave tries to force a quick pass once the ball gets into the middle, with Carroll and whoever his partner is playing like safeties and trying to break up anything entering the final third.
        I’d say they’re trying to play a 4-3-3 but haven’t broken out of defense with the speed to actually make it look like it should. And I agree with DarthLos that MLS formations should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re fine for figuring out if people played wide or centrally, but in terms of figuring out what line people were in (4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1, etc), the league usually Geigers it.

      • Agree that the formations are pretty inaccurate in the MLS, both in terms of play [good luck telling Keon to play forward] and the way they are posted during and after the game.

        Again, great article

  7. DarthLos117 says:

    The train has stalled.

  8. best part – “You are not driving this train. Michael Farfan is.”

  9. DarthLos117 says:

    Kinda confused by your article(He’s not a creator? but find McInerny and Hoppenot?)…you convinced me that Adu shouldn’t be playing at all.
    “So he can’t play centrally. And he can’t be a traditional winger. This is why Adu has been pushed wide, but only flourished when defenders back off and let him play balls into the middle…”: literally translates into: He is only effective when the other team doesn’t play defense.
    Also MLS formation pages are historically incorrect…apparently we have been playing a 4-2-3-1 all year.

    • To the first point: I wouldn’t necessarily disagree that he shouldn’t be playing. But the “creator” tag is more of a role than an actual description of a player’s contribution. It’s like saying a guy is playing a number ten role. He doesn’t have to wear number ten to do it. Beckham creates chances, but he’s hardly playing a creator role a la Felipe in Montreal, Zusi in KC, or classic Schelotto.

      Second point: It’s not when they don’t play defense. That’s like saying England under Roy Hodgson don’t play defense. They do, but they set up in two banks of four and let the offense make mistakes in front of them. More international teams play a more conservative defensive system because it’s superduper hard to coordinate a pressure defense when you only get to work with your players once in a blue moon. Most MLS teams are high-press-win-the-ball-back sides because they often have more athletes than tacticians. So there are scenarios where Adu should be able to have more success than others.

      Third point: I agree, MLS formation pages have their flaws. Usually they are pretty accurate longitudinally but much iffier along horizontal lines.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        more confused by your 2nd point comment…Adu is succesfully when other teams give him space? Most MLS teams will not give him space.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        All Im saying is that your article really just makes me think that he shouldnt be playing moreso than I had already thought…but ultimately what are our other options. Not the best assembled squad.

  10. I second mk_27. Great read and 100% true story. I love Freddy but it’s time to change his game a little. #DOOP.

  11. I kind of think of Adu as Nowak’s greatest and most enduring practical joke towards the Union.

    He was like “Oh you hate Carlos Ruiz? well how about Freddy Adu?” It seems like every criticism directed towards Carlos is magnified by 10 for Freddy with the exception Carlos did what he was supposed to do, score goals while Freddy does what exactly?

  12. I have a couple problems with this article:

    Shelob may not be too quck, but she is a beast in goal. I defy you to get the ball by her.

    Freddy has nothing in common with Ronaldinho. Nothing.

  13. Really great piece, hope Freddy is reading it! Also, side note, just saying this is the 2nd piece in 2 days on PSP that has mentioned RONALDINHO. You trying to tell us something PSP? I’ll keep the secret. I will happy dance in front of PPL Park though.

  14. “Beckham’s first thought is always to get rid of the ball. If he takes a while, it’s to find a better pass”. No and Yes. The first part is complete bollocks. Football is about decision making not getting rid of a hot potato. The better the player, the more comfortable they are with decision making and ball retention. The more players feeding into a game plan of movement and providing options means the ball can be released earlier. Plain and simple. When you have the ball at your feet – you have to take responsibility for the decision. If you retain the ball, you’ve made a decision that the right opportunities haven’t presented themselves yet, so you wait for the the best opportunity to present itself, then you release the ball. If you hoof the ball into the middle of the box, with no runners, then you’re guilty of poor decision making. Adu, whilst technically ok, doesn’t have the team smarts to pull any of this off. He was good at 14 but hasn’t improved or developed. We all knew a kid a school who was going to be the next big thing right, well, of all those next big things only 1 or 2 actually do it. Adu was 5th or 6th

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Good points, the team concept remidns me of what Hackworth said during his presser today. HE specifally mentioned Adu and said something about trying to teach him to buy int othe concept of the team.

    • @Jenks – Methinks you are taking the “get rid of the ball” part a bit too literally. It’s not hot potato, it’s ball movement. As in: Head up, looking for options.

      One point I’m trying to make is that the relationship you describe as: “More players feeding into a game plan of movement and providing options means the ball can be released earlier” goes both ways. Yes, the players have to buy in and move, but this movement is more likely if there is a belief that the player with the ball a) Has the ability to find them on their runs and b) Is looking to find runs as soon as he has the ball. That’s a quality Beckham has shown that Adu has not.

      • I took it the way it was written.

      • Given that the rest of the paragraph provided – or was supposed to have provided context – I’d disagree. But fair enough. Hope the explanation was sufficient.

      • not really, because it didn’t provide context. You didn’t say what you meant. “getting rid of it” is a negative statement. If you meant “looks to advance play by releasing the ball quickly into positive areas” you might be onto something. “getting rid of the ball” is what we tell below average defenders to do when under pressure. “get rid and launch into row Z”.

      • So, “Everybody knows that the right run will get them picked out and on their way” didn’t give a hint that “getting rid of” wasn’t pejorative? I get that you’re saying “get rid of” has a negative connotation. Do you get what I’m saying about “rest of the paragraph”?

  15. Philly Cheese says:

    Excellent article about what many are thinking, but few have put into writing. I am enough of an optimist to think that Hackworth could teach him the changes needed. His individual, head down, looking at the ball, is 180 degrees different than Beckham’s head up looking for service to forwards.
    If Adu is not willing to change…..eat the salary loss and put him in a suit and tie in the stands with other Union hopefuls not in the 18.

  16. The question is should we be fixing players who have been professionals for 8 plus years. Isn’t that like trying to make Peyton manning an option quarterback. He either fits or not. Let him play or not. Let’s face it he does not make that much money. His comp is like 400 base and 519 guaranteed. I doubt you can change his game so he plays like we want him too. I like Freddy. He is polarizing but I do not think he is the sole source of our woes as recently this page has depicted through columns and fan comments. As the saying goes it is what it is. Keep calm and move along

  17. Talk trash on Freddy all you want but he is NOT the problem with the Union. Freddy creates chances consistently (he has set up the only 2 goals we’ve scored in the last 2 games). Farfan is easily just as inconsistent, and loses the ball just as much. If you believe in the castrol index, Adu is the 8th most affective field player on the team this year (including how affective cruz was in DC). Freddy also draws defenders and makes lots of one time passes that don’t seem like they do anything but they free up other players to make plays. You can go after him all you want, but until some1 else steps up and produces tangible results (goals, assists, and wins) people need to maybe support him and make him feel comfortable rather than trying to make him an outcast.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I think that Freddy is great…on another team. I’ve tried to appreciate what he brought to the pitch. That all changed when he stopped bringing anything. His setups, on the last two goals, are a bit of a reach; if trying to justify his game. They were the result of more folly than quality. I’m not sure of the other “consistent chances” that Freddy creates, unless we are talking about the chances he creates for opposing teams. It’s time for the Union to join the list of clubs that have grown tired of waiting to see something out of Fred Adu.

  18. Marc Geiger says:

    Look at meeeeeeeeeeeee!

    Don’t stop talking about meeeeeeeeeee!

    Please. It’s meeeeeeeeeee!

    Did you know I was in the Olympics. I was the star.

    Little Old Meeeeeeeeeeee.

  19. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    Great piece! And keep it up with the LOTR references. They always make soccer articles better.

    I’d sooner see Adu off the pitch until he can prove that he can be a contributing player. The Gold Cup certainly showed that he has what it takes to be a miraculous distributor (what is it that Bob Bradley told him that Hack ain’t?!), but he has to actually be able and willing to do it. Otherwise: unload the poor guy. Let him dribble all the way down to NASL.

  20. i like your thoughts. they seem accurate. it seems like adu wants to be the star of the show. he wants to score. adu is either horrible or great. so it’s annoying and hard to decide whether to keep him or not. he needs to chill with the step overs and focus on assists and take shots if he has a clear chance or if there are no other options. i feel like Adu could be great if he changes his mindset.

  21. Do we know how long Freddy’s contract is for? It’d be nice to free up the cap space he is taking up.

  22. Wait, wait, wait… How do you haters explain how poorly the Union played from the minute Freddy Adu left the field last Sunday against DC United? In fact, what I saw in the last 10 minutes was MLS at it’s worst. Nobody on the field with skills, so complete shenanigans. Just pathetic! All of the Union players that you name above were on the field still… except Freddy. Are we watching the same game? Do you want a full season of a Union that resembles the last portion of the DC United game? I will tune out! I want the Union from before they took Freddy out, thank you very much.

  23. It might help his game if he could actually use his right foot. Any defender will tell you the first rule is to direct the attacker to his weak side, watch how they do this to Freddie. This makes his chances of winning a on on one slim. Certainly he needs to lift his head and fined the passes quicker but really for that money should we be having such a discussion?

  24. I have personally been sooooo frustrated with Adu’s play this season. I even came up with “transcendent me-firstness” to describe his play. But I keep on asking myself the same questions:

    — Why did he look so effective — dare I say great — in the U-23 qualifying games (and was chosen captain for the squad)? Dude was solid in those games.

    — Why has he been called up for USMNT duty with BB? Obviously he would not be brought in if he sucked.

    I can’t help but wonder: Do his skills work better with better players around him? Are our coaches not incorporating a system that maximizes his talents? How is he still only 22? Does he age at half the rate of normal humans?

  25. msg24365
    You hit it right on the head with your second part of your posting. I’m really tired of reading all of these novice soccer fans thinking they know talent when its obvious they do not. Freddy is the best the US has at its disposal for crisp passing, a sharp eye, and creativity on the ball. If you feel he’s a turn over machine…so are about 5 others on the most recent squad but then…they were ON the squad so how is your point valid?
    When Freddy is put with other talent players his play explodes and you can see his comfort. The Union are nothing more then mediocrity. Its why I felt Caleb Porter would have done a much better job as the Head of US Football, he knew without a doubt Adu should be on the roster..and then he made him Captain. His play was stellar and if not for a horrible mistake by johnson that team was going places.

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