JAMIE HILL - Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Freddy Adu's career has been characterized by its peaks and valleys, but after a successful stint in Turkey, the young playmaker seems to be slowly ascending once again.
Adu, who will turn 22 on June 2, spent the second half of the season with Rizespor in the Turkish second tier. While many of his loans from Benfica have been fraught with disappointment and unexpected difficulties, his trip to the small town on the Black Sea coast was a much more positive experience.
Adu joined Rizespor on the last day of the winter transfer window and proceeded to make 13 appearances in the TFF First League, netting four goals. He had spent the first half of the season in limbo at Aris Thessaloniki, where he was technically still on loan, but out of head coach Hector Cuper's plans.
The young attacking midfielder expresses that at Rizespor he felt truly at home for the first time in years. "There was a family atmosphere," Adu told YA. "Everybody was great: my teammates were great, my coaches were great, and the president was great as well. The president and the general manager called me every day to make sure everything was okay because I was so far from home. I really felt good; I felt wanted."
Adu's comfort at Rizespor is all the more notable considering the relatively exotic locale. While many Americans have played in a variety Western European communities large and small, few have any experience in countries as far east as Turkey.
The foreign character of Rize did not bother Adu, however. "It feels very foreign," he admitted. "It's a little town and there isn't much, but I was there to play soccer. That was the main focus."
Despite his relative youth, Adu has experience in numerous leagues, having already played in MLS, Portugal, France, and Greece prior to his arrival at Rizespor. The Turkish second level, however, is more obscure and like virtually all Americans, Adu did not have any preconception of the standard of play there.
"Surprisingly, it was better than I expected," Adu said of the level of play. "The players were technically gifted and there are hard tackles in the games, too. It's not easy. In Turkey, everyone knows this and everyone says that the second division is harder than the first division because it's a lot more intense and guys get after it much more. It helped me out a lot in terms of developing that aspect of my game."
Adu's much-anticipated move to Europe in the summer of 2007 was supposed to herald a new era in the young phenom's career, but the former DC United draft pick has instead encountered numerous setbacks and disappointments. Adu briefly enjoyed steady playing time at Benfica and Aris, but fell out of favor at both clubs after a few months. At Monaco and Belenenses, even a short period of regular playing time eluded him. In contrast, at Rizespor Adu was a regular in the starting lineup, which he feels benefited his game.
"There were a lot of things that I was missing in my game a couple years ago and I've been trying to work on that," acknowledged Adu. "I think hard work pays off and when I went to Turkey, I just tried to learn and help my team. By playing, all those things came together."
Adu's successful stint in Rizespor was enough to convince Bob Bradley to include him in the United States Gold Cup squad, a decision that surprised many – including Freddy Adu himself.
"I actually had no idea [that I would be called in]; I was focused on helping my team in Turkey," Adu said. "I just want to help the team in whichever way possible. The coaches showed a lot of faith in bringing me here."
Bradley's unexpected choice of Adu was made in part because of his progress in Turkey.
"Even when some decisions have gone against him, we still felt that he's young and there are starting points that are good," the US manager opined. "When you think about specifics, he's a player who can come on the field as a sub and play a certain kind of pass or get himself in a position to score. His set piece deliveries are good."
American fans should not necessarily expect Adu to play a huge role in the upcoming tournament, however. As somebody who had dropped off the national team radar for quite some time, Adu will have to force his way into the team like any other young, unproven player.
"We all know that Freddy has some great abilities," Bradley commented. "Now, it's an opportunity for us to see after a few years where he is and where he fits in. There are no guarantees in this. When you are filling out a roster for the Gold Cup, you don't know how it will play out or whether everybody will get on the field."
After so many highs and lows in his roller coaster career, Adu is happy to be back with the national team for the first time in several years. The Ghana-born midfielder understands that it will be a challenge to entrench himself at the international level.
"Everyone here is more than capable of helping the team, so when you are called upon you have to be ready to help the guys, whether you're talking about pushing the guys in training or going out there and helping the team during a game," Adu added, concluding "I was very grateful and happy to be called in."