On paper, USA Men's soccer coach Bob Bradley has made all the right moves. He has selected a very solid 30-man provisional roster for the 2010 World Cup, and excitement is mounting.
The squad includes regulars like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Carlos Bocanegra. Refreshingly enough, there are even some young stars like Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan getting some love from the coach. The future is promising for US soccer, and very few have anything negative to say of Coach Bradley's team choices.
One missing name that doesn't stand out as it used to is Freddy Adu. Once considered the future of American soccer, Adu finds himself on the outside looking in. This is not unwarranted.
The vast majority of Freddy's time in Europe has been spent on the bench and he has been shipped from team to team and country to country without much success. Furthermore, there are many attacking midfielders in the US talent pool that deserve a spot on the US WC roster over Freddy.
But I think Freddy should get a spot.
Now, I can feel your eyes rolling after you read that last sentence. I can also guess what your thinking. "I mean, how many people have to make excuses for this guy right?" "Whose spot would he possibly take?" "He's just not that good, right?" "He's not done well enough at the club level to warrant a spot!"
I hear the criticisms, and honestly I kind of agree. But, sometimes conventional wisdom needs to be forsaken. Sometimes, you have to go out on a limb. That "limb" is Freddy Adu.
Freddy Adu is America's Lukas Podolski. Now, don't freak out. Just read and you'll see the connection.
Most people know Lukas Podolski as one of the brightest stars in German soccer. After all, he won the Best Young Player award at the 2006 World Cup (over C. Ronaldo). He earned the silver boot at Euro 2008, and was even on the all-tournament team.
So how does he compare to Freddy Adu?
This past season at FC Köln (27 appearances), Podolski scored just 2 goals. Previously, in 72 appearance for Bayern Munich, Podolski scored just 15 goals. After his first stint with Köln, Podolski has been dismal at the club level. However, he continues to be called up for the German National team and continues to excel.
Same with Freddy Adu. Think back to the 2007 U-20 World Cup. The US roster had talents like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, but Freddy shone brightest. He orchestrated the attack like a maestro. He made the team tick. He had that X-factor that none of the other players on the team had.
Now fast forward to June 4, 2008. Freddy gets a starting midfield spot in a USA-Spain friendly. If you watched that match, you would know that Freddy was the only US player that played with no fear.
He played like a star while outplaying Landon Donovan and other US national team mainstays, he brought that X-factor. He did the same in a friendly against Argentina a few weeks later.
At the Beijing Olympics, Freddy brought confidence to a US team against the Netherlands. Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, and Jozy Altidore played timidly and scared while Freddy was fearless. He gave the team the belief that they could win (though they lost).
Despite what Freddy (and Podolski) do at the club level, they completely transform when they put on a national team jersey. They are new people.
I'm not saying Freddy will perform as well as Podolski. I'm not saying Freddy should start. I'm not even saying that he should get a lot of minutes. I just call it as I see it; and I see that Freddy brings that spark.
Freddy has something that many US players don't have, flair and creativity. When tactics fail and defense collapses, Freddy has the raw instincts to make magic happen.
When the starters get tired, Freddy can come in and bring excitement. In an emotionally charged tournament like the World Cup, you need more than tactics and strategy. Sometimes you need to pull out a wild card.
Sometimes, you need that X factor.