Adu not in U-20 plans ... for now

October 10, 2003
By Marc Connolly
(Archive)

CARSON, Calif. -- When speaking about the selection of his under-20 National Team for the World Youth Championships next month, head coach Thomas Rongen made it very clear:

"I'm not a firm believer that you take players just for the experience," he said on Wednesday night. "You take players to win a World Cup."

Apparently, one of those players is not 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu.

"After we've worked with this team for the last eighteen months, it's very hard to introduce any new players into our group," explained Rongen, who coached three different teams in Major League Soccer before taking over the U-20s in 2001. "Those players are aware of that and I've talked to them."

After training with 14 of the regulars from Rongen's squad, as well as U-17 teammate Memo Gonzalez, earlier this week at the Home Depot Center, Adu was given such news.

"He told me that as of right now I am not going with the team," said Adu.

The gifted striker was disappointed, but understanding of the situation.

"They've been together for 18 months," he said. "I think it's pretty hard for coaches to just bring somebody else in to replace somebody else. He has to stay loyal to those guys who helped him qualify, and I respect that. I don't have to agree with his decision, but I respect it."

After playing 14 minutes in a scrimmage against Japan after Rongen told him he had tonight to "prove him wrong," Adu was pleased with his performance.

"Hopefully," he said, "I did something out there on the field that makes him think twice about that decision."

Adu didn't see much of the ball in the team's 2-1 loss, but he did show the flash of speed and talent that has clubs all over the world inquiring about his services.

Rongen said that Adu played well during camp and impressed him as much with his maturity and love for the game as he did with his skills on the field. Not having him on his 20-player roster isn't a knock to the young wunderkind in any way, he said.

"Freddy is a very talented player and we all know that," said Rongen, whose side will take on Germany, Paraguay and South Korea in group play when it travels to the United Arab Emirates on November 22 for the three-week long tournament. "Freddy will be able to play in three more (U-20) World Cups."

If there happens to be an injury from the current squad that is split between college players and professionals in MLS, Rongen said that the roster spot won't necessarily go to Adu.

He mentioned five players from the U-17 team that made the quarterfinals in the World Championships six weeks ago as being possibilities should he need another player: Adu, Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), Jonathan Spector (Manchester United youth side), Eddie Gaven (MetroStars) and Danny Szetela (residency in Bradenton, Fla.).

"If we get an injury to a defender, I'll take Spector," said Rongen. "If we get an injury to a midfielder, I'll probably make a decision between Eddie Gaven and Memo Gonzalez. We get an injury to an attacking player, it'll be Freddy Adu."

In the meantime, Adu says he'll be crossing his fingers that Rongen will "have a change of heart," and will be busy enough in Bradenton finishing up his senior year of high school either by February or later in the spring to keep his options open for a future that has endless options.

Major League Soccer's draft is in January, and could be a nice option for Adu to make himself eligible for, as it would allow him to get a taste of professional soccer without being in a foreign land on his own.

Then again, Adu wants to push himself as much as possible.

"I want to be pushed around," joked Adu. "It's just drive to take my game to another level. That's what I want to experience."

Manchester United has been tracking his progress throughout the year, which certainly excites Adu, "I've loved them ever since I was a baby.

"I would love to end up in England someday, playing for Man. U. or some team like that," he said.

As well as the U.S. National Team.

Adu might not play with the U-20s this time around, but it's only a matter of time before he dons the U.S. colors for the Olympic Team, and makes a push to be on Bruce Arena's 2006 World Cup squad.

This isn't a roadblock on his path to stardom. Just a speed bump.

Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: shaketiller10@yahoo.com.