More from the Nashville Nightmare: Freddy Adu and his maddening inconsistency

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Freddy Adu, the once-wunderkind, once-fallen, then-risen U.S. soccer prodigy, comes so tantalizingly close to fulfilling expectations.

After yet another humdrum half – also known as “the usual” for Adu in this tournament – he finally became the difference-maker everybody so badly wants him to be.

The U.S. under-23 captain finally made El Salvador and everyone around him take notice, finally managing an impact, one that very nearly drove his team into the Olympic qualifying semifinals. His two setups Monday, including a killer pass that put Terrence Boyd clean through, sparked the second half rally – although one ultimately undone by more shoddy U.S. defending and even worse goalkeeping.

The question then becomes: why are these moments so few and far between? Because with a little more of the bright stuff we saw for 30 minutes Monday, perhaps the U.S. wouldn’t have been in position to lose the whole shebang on a lost-second goalkeeper’s bobble.

As the captain and most experienced man, couldn’t he have cranked things up earlier?

Adu’s erratic body of work in this tournament will be among the lasting talking points. That’s similar to his memorable, up-and-down summer of 2011, punctuated by a big night against Mexico, when Adu was plucked from the bench and, against all odds, roundly praised as the best U.S. man in an otherwise forgettable Gold Cup final U.S. loss.

Adu’s history is starting to stack up with such aching, frustrating inconsistency.

Just like the last five days, for instance. In the end, Adu played 30 respectable minutes out of 270 in Nashville. For about 30 minutes Monday he became a leader of young men and a playmaker, arranging those two U.S. goals and lifting his side with spunky feet, ideas and energy.

Good on him for that – but where was more of the same over the other five-plus halves? Because the rest of the time was a disappointing mish-mash of meek work along the U.S. right side, poor decisions and an inability to seize the initiative when he did find the ball near goal.

Perhaps it wasn’t all Adu’s fault. It seemed like a mistake to play him out wide right – especially since central attacker Joe Corona disappeared after his three goals against Cuba’s stationary defense.

Out wide, Adu never stretched the field on that side; he was clearly more comfortable coming inside, and too predictably so. When he did occasionally push to the outside the result was usually a poor cross.

Adu failed most memorably in two moments that mattered just before the break Monday, instances inside the penalty area that called for decisive, early action. Instead, Adu made of mess of both, squandering a pair of juicy chances at equalizers.