Time running out for Freddy Adu in Philadelphia

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Sometimes the writing on the wall is nothing more than an eight-year-old’s drawings on a dusty car window. Other times, it carries the weight of Mayan prophecy. With Jonathan Tannenwald’s report this morning, we see it’s year 2012 on Philadelphia’s Freddy Adu calendar. The talented attacker may be with the Union beyond this season, but if John Hackworth’s plans play out, it won’t be in a major role:

The Union’s biggest name and most expensive player was not on the gameday roster for Saturday’s season-ending matchup with the New York Red Bulls at PPL Park. But the matter extends deeper than that. According to multiple sources, the Union’s coaching staff intends for Adu to remain off the field for as long as he is on the team’s roster.

None of this should be surprising. Though Adu has received more playing time of late, it was telling how Hackworth used him during the first months of his tenure. After Peter Nowak was fired, Adu slowly starting losing his place in the starting XI. Before long, he was super sub. Then he wasn’t so super. When Hackworth needed to win games, he choosing Freddy Adu. Along the way, it became clear Michael Farfan would be the man at the center of Philly’s attack, not Adu.

It was only after Philadelphia’s 2012 fate was decided that Adu started to creep back into the picture. Was that giving Adu another chance? (Kind of.) Had he earned his place back in the team? (Not really.) Or was Hackworth trying to make a decision regarding the talented 23-year-old’s future? (Probably.) When he was taken off early last Saturday in Houston, Hackworth seems to tip his hand.

That would have been too much to read from one match’s substitution, but as with anything Adu, we’re always left reaching. Each flash of brilliance recalls his once unfairly apportioned promise. Every benching provokes a reflex to rescind. The hype has faded but our embarrassment never will. Everybody will always want more from Freddy Adu.

Where will that more come, if it’s not Philadelphia? Look over Major League Soccer and you see a number of teams that can still use him. Though you’ll hear people caution against being burned by Adu, we’ve reached a point where there’s very little risk to taking him on. Bring Adu in, and he might approach his promise. If he doesn’t, he no longer represents an opportunity loss. You can move on without questions, just as Philadelphia will try to do this winter.

Nine years into his professional career, Adu has become an opportunity to swing for the fences without risking a strike, provided you have room to take him on. As Eddie Johnson’s story shows, talent can be cultivated, and we often give up on it too soon. Adu just needs to find the man who can bring the best out of him.

Who is Adu’s Sigi Schmid? It wasn’t Peter Nowak. It wasn’t John Hackworth.