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Why American Soccer Didn’t Need Freddy Adu

“A lot of people have been hyped up to be great but just disappeared,” Freddy Adu, a 13-freddy aduyear-old soccer prodigy from Washington, D.C., told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of them.”

Earlier this week, Adu signed for the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, his 13th club in 11 seasons. The move, which will reunite Adu with one of his old youth coaches, represents the latest in a long series of last chances for the forward once hailed as the American Pele. Adu hasn’t played for the United States since the 2012 Gold Cup. In March, after Adu ended a humiliating six-month stint with a team in the Serbian SuperLiga, Grantland’s Noah Davis wondered, “Seriously, what the heck happened with Freddy Adu?” On Monday, BBC Sport labeled him “a journeyman at the age of 26.” 

It’s difficult to overstate the level of hysteria that surrounded Adu in the early 2000s, as he prepared to become the youngest player in the history of Major League Soccer. He was profiled in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, as well as SI. He was interviewed on 60 Minutes and The Late Show with David Letterman. Pundits compared him to LeBron James, anointing him “the savior of American soccer.” “He’s in a position to positively affect a sports league more than any other player since Babe Ruth,” Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports-marketing executive, said in 2004.

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Age of the Deuce

The usual line on Clint Dempsey is that he’s underappreciated in his home country – that, in the United States, it’s Clint DempseyLandon Donovan, not Dempsey, who symbolizes a sport many Americans don’t take very seriously. There’s certainly something to that. Donovan’s on-and-off relationship with reality TV star Bianca Kajlich cemented his place in the wider world of American pop culture; Dempsey is an “avid fisherman.” Donovan feuded with David Beckham, then made up with him, then won a couple of trophies; during his last year at Fulham, Dempsey meshed well with Belgian midfielder Moussa Dembele.

In England, it’s another story entirely. Dempsey, regarded as one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers, regularly scores goals for Tottenham Hotspur. By contrast, Donovan’s forays into European football have rarely convinced – he performed well during his first loan spell at Everton, but Major League Soccer’s ridiculous transfer rules precluded a permanent move, and Tim Howard is way more fun.

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