In his 43-minute spell on the field during Philadelphia's 3-2 home defeat to New York on Sunday afternoon, Freddy Adu captured the essence of his compelling and frustrating club career.
It was, in short, the type of performance that showed why Adu emerged onto the scene with such fanfare as a teenager and failed to make permanent inroads in the top levels of European football over the past few years.
The 22-year-old midfielder displayed many of the tools that inspired such widespread belief in his abilities against the Red Bulls. He imposed his will on the match from the opening whistle by carving out space to operate when the visitors ceded ground to him and slicing through defenders a couple of times when they did not. Most importantly, he applied himself in a manner that he (and his teammates, for that matter) hadn't previously exhibited this season.
Philadelphia entered the weekend rooted to the bottom of the league in goals (five, tied with Chivas USA) shots (69) and shots on goal (18). Adu's scant influence on the Union's first eight matches – aside from a cheeky back heel goal to collect all three points at Chivas USA on April 21 – played a part in those impotent showings. His willingness to uncork shots at will (three shots, one on target) yesterday reinforced the Union's desire to rectify its timid attacking forays and spurred most of his teammates (particularly the active Lionard Pajoy) to follow suit.
A dazzling run on the right side of the penalty area on the half hour highlighted the full range of Adu's skills. The intoxicating mixture of audacity, control and incisiveness required to embark upon this particular dash through four New York defenders most commonly exists at the very highest levels. A fifth defender slid over to concede a corner before Adu could square the ball, but the sequence provided some evidence as to why so many managers have taken a chance on him at one stage or another during his career.
The resulting corner kick yielded Pajoy's equalizer from an Adu cross at the second time of asking. At that juncture of the game, the Adu-inspired Union looked the more likely team to seal all three points by full time. Unfortunately for the beleaguered home side, Adu's id appeared twice during the first half and ultimately sent those plans to the scrap heap.
Adu placed himself in unnecessary peril after just five minutes with an ill-advised scissors tackle inside his own half. Even though New York defender Roy Miller turned away from the Philadelphia goal and tried to play the ball backwards, Adu clattered through the back of him and elicited a straightforward caution from referee Jorge Gonzalez.
A similar consensus eluded Adu's second booking for simulation in the 43rd minute (it seemed fair enough from this vantage point, for the record), but this part of the equation remains certain: the impetuous tackle early in the game placed his fate in Gonzalez's hands when the second incident occurred. On some days, Adu would have emerged unscathed from the second incident to pull the strings for another half. On this particular day, Adu drew his second yellow card to the evident consternation of everyone affiliated with the Union. In either case, the second incident assumes a greater importance because the first challenge does not project the type of composed and disciplined thought process expected from a player with 17 international caps and a series of stints with respectable European clubs on his résumé.
The dismissal marks just the latest in a series of interruptions at inopportune moments in Adu's club career. His performance against New York likely represents his best offering in a Union kit since his arrival last August and possibly provides a platform to build upon for the remainder of the season. Instead of retaining that confidence and rhythm, Adu will now lose his spot for Saturday's trip to FC Dallas and miss out on the chance to immediately push onwards in his frustrating search for consistency.
Similar missteps – both inside and outside of Adu's control – have perpetually inhibited his quest to truly make his presence felt on the club level on a regular basis. For his sake and for the Union's chances to mount a revival this season, Adu must hope that Sunday represents a turning point toward fulfilling that elusive goal instead of yet another false dawn in his perpetually promising career.
Five Points – Week 10
1. Same old story sees Houston open its new stadium in style: For a while there, it looked like the Dynamo might not enjoy the storybook ending they expected when they opened BBVA Compass Stadium against D.C. United on Saturday afternoon. Wasteful finishing – Brian Ching squandered several chances, while Je-Vaughn Watson somehow skied over on the stroke of halftime – and a couple of robust challenges in inopportune spots threatened to sidetrack the home side's expected march to all three points.
Two familiar factors changed the game in the second half and secured the proper ending for the Dynamo: Brad Davis' wonderful left peg and the steamy conditions. Davis' dipping and swerving effort from distance ultimately separated the sides in Houston's 1-0 victory and the heat ensured United didn't have enough left in the tank to mount a comeback in the late stages. The more things change, the more they stay the same for one of the most consistent sides in the league.
(Note: Speaking of retaining the status quo, the Dynamo ignored the acres of space available in their new surroundings and lined a field just 70 yards wide. The Forecast discussed the potential pitfalls of a wider field for the Dynamo on Friday, but this cagey move suggests the new facility won't place Dominic Kinnear's finely tuned and highly successful style of play at risk any time soon.)
2. Trademark free kick from David Beckham gives Galaxy a necessary point at Montreal: Beckham probably would have liked to remind England Olympic team manager Stuart Pearce of this particular skill during his visit to southern California last weekend, but Beckham's wonderful second-half effort still secured a 1-1 draw with Montréal on Saturday afternoon.
3. Lee Nguyen makes his statement against Vancouver: Nguyen barely landed with the Whitecaps before Martin Rennie evaluated his ample options in the attacking third and rendered the former PSV Eindhoven midfielder surplus to requirements. New England gleefully snapped him up off the waiver wire in March and received its most significant contribution to date from Nguyen in Saturday night's 4-1 romp over Vancouver at Gillette Stadium.
Nguyen replied moments after Eric Hassli's fifth-minute opener and turned the match on its head. Instead of allowing Vancouver to find its footing after a well-worked opening goal, Nguyen and the Revs exposed the makeshift back line straight away to cancel out the early goal and grasped the match by the scruff of the neck. Further first-half tallies by Saër Sène (from a neat Nguyen pass) and Shalrie Joseph all but put the game on ice, but the man of the match placed the cherry on top of his performance with a stunning volley after 72 minutes. Nguyen's display showed Rennie that he perhaps should have kept him on his own roster to prevent such unfortunate occurrences from taking place.
(Note: After Rennie lauded Nguyen's impact on the night, he spent a fair bit of time talking about his own team selection in the postgame press conference. Camilo, Jay DeMerit and John Thorrington all remained in British Columbia and Martin Bonjour remained rooted to the bench in Foxborough ahead of the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final against Toronto FC. With TFC off from league play this weekend and a crowded fixture list ahead, Rennie had little choice but to rest a few of his key players. He did mention that he expected a better performance from his makeshift defensive group and said the overall performance might give him further food for thought about how he plans to use his squad in the future. On this evidence, the summer shopping list should probably include another center back (Carlos Bocanegra, perhaps?) to increase the available options beyond Carlyle Mitchell and out-of-position left back Alain Rochat on nights like this one.)
4. Professional performance by Real Salt Lake ends Seattle's hopes of five wins in 15 days: RSL did what savvy veteran teams do when confronted with a difficult task at CenturyLink Field: weathered the storm and struck back when it could. The Claret-and-Cobalt's 1-0 victory resulted from a determined approach from the outset and a defiant and organized (not even missing a beat when Chris Schuler replaced Chris Wingert after 20 minutes) display at the back.
Seattle pressed earnestly during the first half without finding a way through (or its shooting boots, for that matter) and subsequently petered out in the second half. By that stage, Fabián Espindola's goal six minutes after halftime set RSL on the way to all three points. Two Seattle marks sum up RSL's grittiness on the day: the zero on the scoreboard and the zero in the shots on goal column. Blame Seattle's heavy legs for all of those scuffed efforts in the final third, but RSL – with six players from the 0-0 draw at Chicago in midweek included in the starting XI – merited the couple of extra points Espindola claimed for the team here.
5. Arrest puts Wilman Conde's New York future in the spotlight: The Colombian center back placed himself into the middle of a potential mess after his alleged actions prompted his arrest for aggravated assault of a police officer in Fort Lee, N.J. on Saturday night. New York coach Hans Backe and general manager Erik Solér offered brief comments on the matter after Sunday's 3-2 victory over Philadelphia, but the matter bears watching over the coming days and weeks as more details emerge. Those particulars could determine the extent of any club or league disciplinary action and the potential impact on his visa status (if any) at the end of the season.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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