When Major League Soccer snared 14-year-old U.S. prodigy Freddy
Adu this week, the shock waves reached Europe's most storied
teams. The most talked-about youth player in the world (SI, Aug.
25), Adu spurned more lucrative offers to play on the youth teams
of powerhouses such as Chelsea and Manchester United to ink a
four-year deal (plus two option years) with MLS. Sources said
Adu--who will play for D.C. United next spring--instantly becomes
the league's highest-paid player.
Why stay Stateside? Three reasons. Adu, a Ghanaian-born striker
who immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and got U.S. citizenship this
year, can 1) live at home with his family in Potomac, Md.; 2)
play pro as a minor in the U.S., a practice forbidden in Europe
to non-E.U. citizens; and 3) have a more nurturing environment
than he would in the hothouse of European soccer. "If Freddy had
gone to a superclub, he wouldn't be as important to them as he is
to us," said MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis. "For us Freddy
is a unique and precious jewel." If Adu lives up to his
staggering potential--at 13 he signed a $1 million deal with
Nike, and many predict he'll play on the World Cup team at 17--he
could become America's first male soccer icon. "He can make a
great contribution to the sport," says MLS commissioner Don
Garber. "It's not just about performing on the field. It's about
being a founding father of the sport for a generation."