EDGAR ZUNIGA - Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Goncalo Lobo Pinhiro/ASF
Adu has scored thrice
Wait. Is this the same Freddy Adu that scored only one goal in 11 games for Real Salt Lake earlier this year? Adu is tearing it up with Benfica and he just keeps getting better and better with each coming week.

Thanks to the MLS hype machine, Adu's career has always been followed with keen interest and his performances have been dissected under a microscope.

Adu's always had his doubters, who questioned everything from his age to his commitment, and there were some cynical enough to proclaim that Adu's young career amounted to failed expectations and just a bunch of hype.

Some of the demands from these people were outrageous. If you listened to them, they'd have you thinking that Adu was supposed to be the next Pelé (who made his professional debut at 15).

Honestly, Adu never lived up to the expectations and hype in MLS, and equally as honestly, it was very unfair to load so much pressure on his young shoulders and expect him to carry the league. Then again, what was he doing in MLS? Sure, MLS may not be a top-flight international league (not quite there…yet), but if he was playing with the big boys, it must've been for a good reason.

Now that Adu is doing well with Benfica I'm wondering if he was always that good: Was MLS holding him back? Or did it take him this long to come into his own?

While in MLS, Adu went through ups and downs. There were flashes of brilliance and questionable decisions, and through it all it was very easy to forget how young Adu really was.

However, now that he is 18, we can see that Adu has matured very well. To anyone that ever doubted his potential, Adu is not only tearing apart the criticisms, he's etching a completely new identity for himself with Benfica, and has quickly earned the respect of new coach Jose Antonio Camacho, whose trust in Adu has paid dividends.

In case you missed it, Adu's first goal with Benfica came in dramatic fashion - on a penalty kick in the 92nd minute of a League Cup game against Estrela da Amadora. Not only did Adu score the tying goal in the dying seconds of the game, Benfica eventually won the game on penalty kicks - including yet another by Adu.

Camacho's confidence in Adu seems to parallel former coach Fernando Santos's admiration, and now Benfica's staff has pointed out that Adu's skills and attitude in training will lead to him becoming an integral part of his team.

So, what about the US National Team? Adu was amazing with the Under-20 squad earlier this year, and his performance at the U-20 World Cup in Canada was the first indication that he was on the verge of something great.

Does this mean that Adu will finally earn a full-international start in an official, FIFA-sanctioned game? Why has it taken so long?

It's not like the US National Team is bursting at the seams with quality attackers, and Adu was impressive in the USA's win over Switzerland, almost scoring a tremendous goal on a breakaway.

If Bob Bradley has any sense, then all that's about to change…

We are bearing witness to the coming of age of Adu and New York's Jozy Altidore, and the burgeoning talents of Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley, who are all crafty, quick and unafraid to bear down on defenders one-on-one.

However, of all these, it is Adu who is really exciting to watch. Deuce and Beasley are a bit older, and Altidore just ended his second season in MLS, but Adu is already putting up impressive results in his first few months with Benfica in a very competitive league.

Now, here's the best part...Adu is only 18 and he's still learning.

In fact, if you look down the road a bit and you see Adu lining up alongside Altidore, Deuce and Beasley, even the most cynical US Soccer fan probably has a slight grin creeping up on them.

What it all boils down to is that US Soccer could actually field a serious contender for the World Cup in the next two to three World Cups.

Don't laugh.

We will take what we can from 2002, learn from the tactical debacle of 2006 and make sure that the next generation of US players are instilled with the confidence to stare down the world's best and finally take US Soccer to next level.

It's time to give Adu...well, his due. He has weathered all the criticism and cynicism and a bunch of other-isms, and looks to become one of the cornerstones of our National Team.