Moving On: It’s A Win-Win For Freddy Adu And D.C. United

By Steven Goff
Updated: December 13, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When his third professional season ended five weeks ago, Freddy Adu looked at his future with D.C. United and did not like what he saw. He concluded that his chances of moving into central midfield, the spot he considers his natural position, were grim.

He realized he would always be a secondary option behind United’s more veteran players and that the only way to enhance his stalled career would be to leave.

His wish was granted Monday, when he was traded to Real Salt Lake as part of a complex deal involving three players, the shifting of player acquisition money and a possible draft pick.

“I just felt it was time to move on and put myself in a situation where I could play my best position and continue to grow as a player,” Adu said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Utah, where he attended a news conference and toured Real Salt Lake’s facilities.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to happen in D.C. I’m just glad [United] was able to accommodate me and make it happen.”

Adu, 17, said he had grown frustrated playing as a wing in United Coach Peter Nowak’s system and wanted the opportunity to move into the middle, a spot held by Christian Gomez, the MLS most valuable player this past season.

Under Real Coach John Ellinger, who oversaw Adu’s development in the national youth system before he joined United, Adu will have that opportunity.

“Christian is a great player and they weren’t going to change anything,” Adu said. “I think I got better [on the wing], but that’s not where I’m at my best. I wasn’t happy, but I just kept my mouth shut, didn’t complain and kept working at it. But I’m at a point in my career where I need to play in my best position.”

Nowak has not granted any interviews since the trade was announced, but his top assistant, Tom Soehn, said: “Freddy wanted a new role and he couldn’t accomplish it here.”

Adu’s former teammates were aware of his dissatisfaction.

“He’s one of those players who grew up getting what he wanted in terms of where he wanted to play,” goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “He did well with it, but on our team, he wasn’t going to move ahead of Christian.

“We obviously needed him on the outside. He hated it and didn’t understand the concept of it. You could see the way it affected him.”

On the surface, the trade did not yield many tangible returns for United: unproven goalkeeper Jay Nolly, a possible future draft pick, the rights to acquire an international player through an allocation from MLS this winter, and money to put toward a player acquisition if Adu ends up in Europe.

In the long run, however, the club could benefit significantly. From United’s perspective, the most important element is the allocation, which is “very valuable because you can use it in so many ways,” team president Kevin Payne said.

MLS awards allocations when, among other things, a team misses out on the playoffs and when the league sells a player to a foreign club. Teams can use that allocation money to sign a player, to put toward contracts of current players or to use as trade bait.

In the Adu deal, United received half of Real Salt Lake’s allocation money for missing the playoffs this year and a portion of an allocation left over from the previous year. It adds up to $275,000.

United had also banked $200,000 of allocation money from trades with Los Angeles and New York earlier this year, Payne said. As a result, D.C. plans to acquire two South American players and restructure the contracts of Gomez and veteran forward Jaime Moreno.

Nowak and technical director Dave Kasper recently returned from a scouting trip in Argentina and Brazil, and Payne said he believes the club might be able to finalize a deal with a player as early as next week.

Real Salt Lake chief executive Dean Howes was not concerned about whom United would acquire with the allocation, saying: “Allocations don’t score goals and don’t keep the ball out of the net. . . . We’d rather get a proven player and let the other teams spend the money to take chances on players who may or may not be successful in this league.”

United’s recent foreign acquisitions have been a mixed bag. Gomez became a superstar and Facundo Erpen a defensive starter, but forward Lucio Filomeno lasted less than a year and midfielder Matias Donnet had a marginal impact after joining the team in August.

United would receive additional allocation funds from Real Salt Lake if Adu is sold to a European team. Real Salt Lake is hoping to retain him until his contract expires in 2009, but Adu recently spent two weeks training informally with Manchester United and has talked openly about heading to Europe after he turns 18 in June.

Payne said the club weighed the impact of trading the most popular player in American soccer, but “it wasn’t our most important consideration. That’s not what we’re about. We believe we gain credibility and build our brand by being successful on the field. It’s not about one player.”