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- It Seems To Me. . .-

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It Seems To Me . . .

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, June 4, 2006) -- Freddy Adu celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday, doing so with an early dinner with a group of friends. The celebration was in the Nation's Capital because Adu is here playing in Major League Soccer with D.C United and not in Hamburg, Germany, with manager Bruce Arena and the United States men, getting ready for their World Cup opener June 12 with the Czech Republic.

This milestone provides a chance to put into perspective where the young midfielder stands in the world of soccer. We have been told by MLS's public relations and marketing machine -- with quite some help from Nike's marketing and PR people -- that Adu is the second coming of Pele, far and away the most gifted young soccer player ever produced in this country, just steps away from making his mark on the world stage.

Well the world stage at this moment is in Germany with the World Cup, while Adu is thousands of miles away, playing in MLS, not with his national team in Group E.

To be charitable, all the hype surrounding Adu's signing with MLS was a tad premature. That's understandable because MLS was desperate for the PR and marketing lift the signing provided. It is also understandable that Adu and his family bought into the hype, and so were naturally not pleased when D.C. United coach Peter Nowak didn't buy into it and sat the youngster firmly on the bench until he could learn to be a professional, a bit about defense and a lot more about the game.

First, there is the good news -- Adu is starting most matches for D.C. United and is beginning to show some of the predicted promise. With Adu starting nine of 11 matches, United is a league-best 7-1-3 and has opened a 10-point lead on the second-place Kansas City Wizards. He has yet to score this season, but has four assists and has made some wonderful runs, getting off some hard shots, including a volley last night that shook the Revolution's goal frame when it hit the crossbar.

How should Adu's standing in the soccer world be gauged? One way is by the countless stories written in the foreign press about the U.S. men's arrival in Germany that mentioned he was not selected to the team. So, he is still in the public mind in Europe.

A better way is to look at the young players who are in this year's World Cup. At each Cup, an award is given to the best young player in the tournament, this year sponsored by Gillette. Many of soccer greats, including Pele, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, Michael Owen and Landon Donovan have won the award in the past.

Any player on a World Cup roster who was born on or after January 1, 1985, is eligible. This year, a total of 41 players are eligible, none from the U.S. because the youngest American Eddie Johnson was born in March 1984. By and large, most of the 41 are considerably older than Adu.

He was born June 2, 1989. The only player in this World Cup born in that year is England's Theo Walcott, who was born March 16, 1989, and who has never played a moment in the English Premier League, but rather with Arsenal's reserve squad. England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson caused a firestorm of controversy when he named the inexperienced Walcott to the England team.

Only two players were born in 1988, Paraguay's Jose Montiel and Togo's Assimiou Toure, who plays in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen. Four were born in 1987, including Argentina's wunderkind Lionel Messi, Spain's Cesc Fabregas, who plays in England for Arsenal, England's Aaron Lennon and Switzerland's Johan Djourou.

That means that Adu is two, three and four years younger than the players competing for the "Best Young Player" award in Germany. It means he will still be eligible for the award four years hence when the World Cup is competed for in South Africa.

So Adu, who is still learning the professional game, has time. Hopefully, fans will recognize that and give him some time to mature as a player. He is finally looking like he is on the way, so time will tell.

The players at the World Cup eligible for the "Best Young Player" award:

Mario (Angola), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Oscar Ustari (Argentina), Mark Milligan (Australia), Luka Modric (Croatia), Christian Benitez (Ecuador), Luis Valencia (Ecuador), Scott Carson (England), Aaron Lennon (England), Wayne Rooney (England), Theo Walcott (England), Marcell Jansen (Germany), Lukas Podolski (Germany), Haminu Dramani (Ghana), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), Hossein Kaabi (Iran), Ji Hoon Baek (Korea), Jin Kyu Kim (Korea), Chu Young Park (Korea), Andres Guardado (Mexico), Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Ryan Babel (Netherlands), Hedwidges Maduro (Netherlands), Jose Montiel (Parguay), Lukasz Fabianski (Poland), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portgual), Mohammed Al Anbar (Saudi Arabia), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Tranquillo Barnetta (Switzerland), Valon Behrami (Switzerland), Johan Djourou (Switzerland), Blerim Dzemaili (Switzerland), Philippe Senderos (Switzerland), Johan Vonlanthen (Switzerland), Toure Assimiou (Togo), Karim Guede (Togo), Yassine Chikhaoui (Tunisia), Dmytro Chiggrynskiy (Ukraine), Oleksandr Iatsenko (Ukraine), Artem Milevskiy (Ukraine), Bogdan Shust (Ukraine)

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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