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Ready Freddy

Dec. 01, 2003
Dec. 01, 2003

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Dec. 1, 2003

Ready Freddy

At 14 Freddy Adu is a millionaire and a media star, and he just
bought a new house for his mom.

This is an article from the Dec. 1, 2003 issue Original Layout

At 14 me and my buddies were seeing if the round end of a spoon
would fit up our noses.

At 14 Freddy Adu is the highest-paid player in Major League
Soccer (MLS), has a huge Nike deal and has been on David
Letterman.

At 14 our goal was to capture our flatulence in a twist-top
bottle.

But at 14 Freddy has something you would never have wanted--the
weight of American soccer on his back.

Last week, when he signed a six-year contract with DC United for
a salary that people are guessing at $500,000, MLS commissioner
Don Garber said, "This is the biggest signing in the history of
our league."

Gulp.

Is this any way to treat a 14-year-old kid?

Raised on the rock-and-bottle pitches of Ghana, Freddy emigrated
to the U.S. at eight years old when his family won a long-shot
State Department lottery. This country is just about to open its
gift. The kid loves soccer the way a fat man loves Sara Lee. If
you threw him a dinner roll, he'd bounce it off his forehead and
knee before catching it with his plate.

He can do things with a soccer ball that make you wonder if it's
not Velcroed to his foot. He can also cradle the ball on the back
of his neck and not lose control of it while he pulls his T-shirt
over the top of his head. He's left-footed, but he can shoot off
either side of his right foot. And when he scored two goals for
his IMG school team to beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 recently, the
world knew he was ready for his close-up. LeBron James? That's so
old school.

"A blind man on a galloping horse can see his talent," says DC
United coach Ray Hudson. "He's a little Faberge egg, and
everyone's just trying to protect him."

But is making him the new face of the league protecting him?

Damn right it is.

Freddy and his no-fuss mother, Emelia, turned down $3 million
more from England's Manchester United to stay close to their new
house in Potomac, Md. Emelia's insisting that Freddy get his high
school diploma--which he's nailing down in March, three years
early. And she wants to keep an eye on him because he's, well, 14.

"Man, being home is going to be great," says Freddy in a voice
that still cracks sometimes, "except I have a lot of chores."
Freddy has much to Adu. He vacuums, does the dishes and mows the
lawn. "She can kinda get on my case sometimes," he says of his
mom. Freddy, can't your agent talk to her?

It all beats Ghana, though. At 14 most kids there are just
starting high school, where as "juniors" they have to "serve" the
seniors, which includes washing their clothes and bringing them
food. At 14 the most Adu will have to do as a rookie is to carry
the ball bag.

Still, an MLS gig comes spring-loaded with temptation. The
next-youngest player the league ever signed--Santino Quaranta,
who was 16 at the time--is 19 now and already living with a
girlfriend and new baby.

Cool! Sleepovers!

Worse, the average age of this season's players was 27. What does
Freddy do when everybody else is going to the bar? Or to an
R-rated movie? Do you get the full per diem if you're eating off
the child's menu? And don't even think about trying to get the
mini-bar key, Freddy.

"I'm not worried," he says, laughing. "My time will come."

Already, DC United is ironing out the lumps. Since Freddy is
still two years from being eligible for his driver's license, a
"staff member" will take him to and from practice, except on days
when his mom can get off from her Home Depot job. Hope she brings
the orange slices.

That's the other weird thing about Freddy--he doesn't want to dig
a hole in the linoleum and crawl in whenever he's seen with his
mom. When my 14-year-old and I are at the mall, she insists on a
gap between us, and by gap she means a Gap clothing store. This
kid shows up at MTV tapings with his mom. Have you ever kissed a
girl? they asked him on air.

"Awwww," Freddy said, blushing. "You can't ask me that in front
of my mom!"

Being a boy soccer god is a sketchy job. Diego Maradona burst on
the world at 15, and now he's fat and living in Cuba, where he
went to treat his drug dependency. Then again, Pele was a World
Cup star at 17 and is still the elegant face of his sport.

This kid can handle it. He's got Pele's boyish face, Tiger's
freakish talent and Magic's joyous personality. At 14 Freddy Adu
might finally be the one to make this country fall in love with
soccer.

At 14 we were hoping to finally be the one to burp the entire
alphabet.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

At 14 our goal was to capture our flatulence in a twist-top
bottle. At 14 Freddy Adu has a huge Nike deal.