Frank Isola: Freddy Adu is the oldest 22-year-old athlete going to the Olympics

Once the youngest American to turn pro in over a century, Adu has been a disappointment but he now has a chance to shine for the USA in the upcoming Olympics.
The most amazing thing about Freddy Adu being chosen for the United States team in its Olympic qualifying tournament is that the one-time child prodigy still qualifies for the 23-and-under roster.

How can that be?

Believe it or not, Adu is just one year above the legal drinking age and yet it seems as if he’s been around forever. That’s because he has been around forever. Adu’s played professionally in France, Portugal, Greece and Turkey before making a Major League Soccer comeback last season with the Philadelphia Union.

“It’s weird,” Adu says. “I’ve been a pro for, like, eight years and I’m 22. I’m just happy that I’m young enough to be through some rough times and great times. I’m blessed that I’m young and I’m able to learn from that and put it all together.

“If you’ve been in the league eight years, you could be 30 and it’s too late to put it all together. You want to do it when you’re in your 20s and have a long and fruitful career.”

Adu, Brek Shea of FC Dallas and the Red Bulls' Juan Agudelo were among the 19 players chosen to play for the U.S., which is in CONCACAF qualifying group A along with Cuba, Canada and El Salvador. The U.S. will play its matches in Nashville, Tenn;, on March 22-26. Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago are in group B at Los Angeles with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semifinals on March 31 at Kansas City. The two winners advance to the London Olympics.

Adu is a terrific choice, especially after his solid showing in the Gold Cup last summer with the senior national team. His experience and quickness on the wing make Adu a dangerous attacking player. Also, Adu’s play with the Olympic team could go a long way toward making an impression with U.S.  men's team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for these young players," Klinsmann said.

This will be an important spring and summer season for Adu, who is entering his second year with the Union. Adu became one of the league’s highest paid players when he signed with Philadelphia last August. But Adu, suffering from an ankle injury, was never fully fit. He scored just two goals in 11 matches and no one was confusing him with the elite players in MLS.

“This will be my first full season in a long time,” Adu told the Delaware County Daily Times. “I hadn’t had a preseason in like four years. I’m excited to get this thing started.”


It was supposed to be different of course. Adu broke in with D.C. United in 2004, months after another teenage wunderkind, LeBron James, made his NBA debut. The difference, of course, is that Adu was only 14 when he made his professional debut.

It’s not easy to be touted as the savior for a fledgling professional league when you haven’t even graduated high school. He made history. The Ghana-born Adu joined Major League Soccer at age 14 in 2004, becoming the youngest U.S. pro athlete in 115 years.

But Adu wants to be known for his soccer and not for being the answer to a trivia question. He can do that by making his mark with Philadelphia. In Monday’s season opening 3-1 loss at Portland, Adu played 74 minutes before being replaced by Jack McInerney. Adu still has an eye on Europe, however. In January, he trained for 10 days with the Madrid-based club Rayo Vallecano and admitted that playing aboard still appeals to him.

 Adu could get that chance this summer in London. Just look for the oldest looking 22 year old at the Olympics.