Adu's debut ends on flat note

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The Independent Football

He was on the pitch for just 30 minutes, during which he touched the ball just nine times. He didn't score and produced no incomparable flashes of skill. But he didn't mess up either - and for Freddy Adu, the current obsession of America's sporting hype machine, that was probably enough.

At the tender age of 14 years and 10 months, the Ghanaian-born Adu made his debut on Saturday for DC United here on the opening day of the Major League Soccer season against the defending champions, San Jose Earthquakes.

The game, in front of a sell-out crowd of 24,000, was broadcast live on network television and ended in a 2-1 win for Washington. However, from the start all eyes were on the slight figure on the substitutes' bench, "Fredd-ie, Fredd-ie," they chanted, begging to see the great hope of American soccer in action - the infant prodigy fêted by every morning talkshow and compared by Pele, no less, to Mozart.

Adu's performance, however, was a shade less than Mozartian. His first touch, a neat lay-off under pressure, was promising. A few minutes later, his quick pass nearly set up a United goal. Yet his inexperience showed when he tried to get past Jeff Agoos, the veteran US national team defender who was 21 years old when Adu was born. The teenager went tumbling to earth inside the penalty area and raised his hands in a gesture of put-upon outrage. But, Adu recounted later with a smile: "The referee just told me to get back up."

That, more or less, was that. At his post-game press conference, Adu fielded every question with an aplomb that belied his age. "I wouldn't change anything about today. I mean, obviously I would have liked to play more. But it was everything I thought it would be. It's something I'm going to remember for a long time."

As he ran out on to the pitch, Adu became the youngest player in a major professional US sport since Fred Chapman, also 14, pitched four innings for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1887. Chapman's major league baseball career lasted exactly one game. Adu may or may not be the magic ingredient that turns MLS into a major league spectator sport. But, it may already be safely predicted, his career will last far longer - once, of course, he has finished with his first year at high school.