I’m no Andres Cantor, but in my lifetime big-game soccer has rarely lived up to the hype. Coaches and refs tend to tense up and leave championship matches of all sorts to be decided by flukes and penalty kicks.
But Saturday’s USA/Mexico matchup for the CONCACAF Gold Cup title, which I caught on over-the-air no-pay channel 15.1, the D.C. Univision affiliate, was entertaining from kickoff to the final whistle—six goals, none of them flukes or penalty kicks, the last of which was deserving of that fave utterance of English-speaking soccer d-bags everywhere: Brilliant!
The match had scads of local poignance, too. We got to see Freddy Adu on a big stage, and looking like he belonged.
To nutshell Adu’s soccer career in his former hometown: He came in like Bryce Harper and went out like Tamir Goodman.
Adu was born in Ghana but grew up in Potomac, and was a known quantity on soccer fields in our area in grade school. At 12, he was recruited to play with the U.S. U-17 national team.
There was a even a birther movement of a sort surrounding Adu, as folks who couldn’t believe he was so far ahead of all the homegrown kids in his age group hinted that his African birth certificate was forged.
He signed with Major League Soccer as a 13-year-old and was assigned to D.C. United, and was hailed as the youngest athlete to play for a professional American sports league “since 1877.”
The hype leading up to his professional debut in 2004, United v. San Jose Earthquakes at RFK, was nauseating. And, as is so often the way with soccer, the reality didn’t live up.
The game was televised live by ABC just because of the kid’s presence. But to the dismay of a crowded stadium and the network television audience, United’s head coach, Peter Nowak, kept Freddy on the bench when the game started. Adu’s reputation and relationship with the coach never really recovered.
It ended with a whimper in 2006, when Adu was traded from United to Real Salt Lake for a reserve goalie named Jay Nolly.
Since then he’s bounced from Euro club to Euro club. Unless you’ve also heard of Jay Nolly, you’ve only heard of one of Adu’s post-MLS teams—Benfica, AS Monaco, Belenenses, Aris, Çaykur Rizespor. (“Caykur Rizespor” sounds painful, but treatable…)
But there was Adu on international TV Saturday night, with the U.S. team in the Gold Cup final. And starting! That move by U.S. head coach Bob Bradley was almost as shocking as Nowak’s decision to keep Adu on the bench back against San Jose in 2004.
Though the match was played at the Rose Bowl, watching USA/Mexico from the Rose Bowl was like watching a Redskins/Steelers game at FedExField—you couldn’t tell who was the home team. I was rooting mainly for Adu and a good game, and went away happy on both counts.
And while wearing his adopted country’s colors, Adu played aggressively and set up both U.S. goals in the 4-2 loss to a Mexican team that you didn’t have to be Andres Cantor to tell was a lot better than our squad.
I looked up Adu’s bio this morning and saw that he’s listed as having just turned 22 years old.
Really? 22? I feel like I’ve known of the guy for more than 22 years.
Hell, now I wanna see that birth certificate.