WASHINGTON -- Freddy Adu vented his frustration over lack of playing time Tuesday, saying it has wrecked his chances of making the U.S. World Cup team and has him thinking about leaving D.C. United.
United coach Peter Nowak fired back, saying tersely that the 16-year-old Adu has had his chances to play and that "nobody is going to be above this team."
The tension between disciplinarian coach and teenage player resurfaced as United prepared to open the MLS playoffs Friday night at Chicago. Adu was particularly upset he didn't start the regular-season finale Saturday against Columbus, one week after winning league honors for player of the week and goal of the week for a highlight-reel score against Real Salt Lake.
"I got player of the week that week, and the next week I'm sitting on the bench," Adu said. "And I'm just like, 'What is going on here?' It's one of those things where you don't understand what's going on, but you've got to swallow your pride and be a team player."
Nowak pointed out that Adu played the second half of the Columbus game.
"If he wants to score a goal, he would score it in the second half against Columbus. ... This is about the team, and always was," Nowak said. "And I don't care who's going to be there -- because nobody is going to be above this team. This is our principle from the beginning."
The Ghanian-born Adu entered the league last year amid much hype at age 14, the youngest and highest-paid player in MLS history -- with a goal of representing his new country in the World Cup in 2006.
But Nowak isn't about to showcase a budding phenom unless it means winning more games. Adu voiced his frustration over playing time several times last year, even though he started 14 of 30 games and scored five goals with three assists -- while Nowak took United to its fourth MLS title.
This year, Adu has started 16 of 25 games -- he missed some games with a knee injury and while he was away at the World Youth Championship. He has four goals and six assists and has to vie for playing time on a deep roster that includes forwards and midfielders Christian Gomez, Dema Kovalenko, Jaime Moreno, Ben Olsen, Santino Quaranta and emerging scorer Jamil Walker.
"It's hard to find minutes on the field," Adu said. "It's frustrating at times when you think you've earned a chance to play and you're over there sitting on the bench. That's not the kind of player I am. I'm the kind of player who wants to be out there. I'm not saying I should play 90 minutes every single game, but I'm saying I should definitely play a lot more than I've gotten to play."
Thus, on the brink of the MLS playoffs, Adu is already thinking about next year.
"It becomes very, very, very, very tempting to look ahead, and as a matter of fact I am doing that right now," Adu said. "I always have to make the best decision for myself first, and, you know, I'm just looking into things right now, so we'll see what happens at the end of this season and we'll see where my family and myself are headed."
Adu's goal always has been to play for a top club team in Europe, but the sport's complicated rules essentially prevent such a move until he is 18. If he's not with United next season, he would likely be playing with another MLS team.
Team president Kevin Payne said he "absolutely" expects Adu back next season.
"Our position is unchanged," Payne said. "I think one of the things that Freddy and the people around him need to understand is that, when it comes to playing time, Freddy is on a very good team. ... I'm not sure how this would be any different if Freddy were with Chelsea or Manchester United. They've got some pretty good players."
Adu's frustration is compounded by his desire to play in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. With every minute on the bench, Adu sees his chances to impress U.S. coach Bruce Arena slipping away.
"That's definitely killed my chances," Adu said. "Bruce has said it a million times that he's not going to bring anybody in that's not playing regularly for his club team."
Adu wouldn't have been a lock for the U.S. team, anyway. Nowak, Payne and Adu's teammates all make the same point: The kid shows flashes of talent, but it's not there all the time.
"He's still young," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "Sometimes you see him do so well in games and turn games around -- and the next time you see him not do as well. You know what the kid has and what he can bring, and I think sometimes the coaches might get frustrated with that. I think he gets frustrated himself."