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Thursday, May 13, 2010
Freddy Adu was the next big thing, so now what?

Freddy Adu
Freddy Adu had a lot of hype when he arrived on the soccer scene, so what now?

Has it only been six years? It feels like so much longer. In early 2004, I stood on the sidelines of a sun-kissed soccer pitch in Bradenton, Fla., watching Freddy Adu make his unofficial D.C. United debut in a scrimmage against the U.S. national team. As far as I remember, his performance was unremarkable; on the other hand, Adu was 14 years old. Which is why Leslie Stahl of "60 Minutes" was there -- gamely pretending to know something about soccer -- and why every Adu pass and ball feint was captured by not one but two camera crews.

He was the Next Big Thing.

National news stories. A commercial with Pelé. Turning down European clubs such as Manchester United to become the top pick in the MLS draft. At the time, Adu's future seemed both limitless and preordained, because this is how it works with Next Big Things: we place them in an echo chamber of expectations, fashion a narrative and wait for them to trace over the words. We ought to know better; experience ought to teach us so; as Adu himself told me, "You know what? I have a lot of time."

Only we can't help ourselves.

Page 2 takes a look back at what people have been saying about Adu through the years:

"At some point we'll look at it again, but 13 is just too young."
-- MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis, Sports Illustrated, March 2003