Byline: Jon Siegel, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Freddy Adu will not plead with his parents to buy him a car when he turns 16 in June. There is no need: Adu plans to give himself the gift of mobility.
"I am going to get something nice," he said with a grin. "Maybe a BMW."
The driving force behind Major League Soccer's marketing efforts soon will be behind the wheel for real, a soccer prodigy coming of age in a public way.
The D.C. United forward plans to get his first ATM card and his driver's license soon, acquisitions he expects to pay immediate dividends: For starters, mom Emilia won't have to drive him to practice every day.
Adu is growing up as a player, too.
After a difficult debut last season, he is trying to move beyond his place as a reserve role player to one as a steady contributor. He is trying to make a name for himself on the field, rather than just as a promoter of the sport off it.
"He is more involved in the game right now," said United coach Peter Nowak. "He can decide the games for us. The team sees that. The physical part is better."
Adu remains the highest-paid player in the league, earning $500,000 a season ($200,000 more than anybody else). He also has a slew of commercial endorsements, including a $1million deal with Nike.
And though the Potomac resident (by way of Ghana) still is the face of Major League Soccer, the spotlight is not as blinding in his second season.
"I don't know who was taking care of his stuff, but the focus went away from soccer and went into publicizing and stuff like that," said teammate and friend Alecko Eskandarian. "That took away from the team and took away from his play."
Adu says he doesn't mind the decrease in attention. Last season he routinely jetted off to appear on MTV or David Letterman's show, cut another commercial for Pepsi or Campbell Soup or do one of countless interviews.
"I just want to be one of the guys," said Adu, who now turns down some invitations and interview requests. "I just know my role on this team. I come in, work hard. The first couple games I was brought in [off the bench] to make a difference, to be a spark. I did that. I started. I was a pest on the field. That is what my teammates want me to do.
"Off the field, they want me to be quiet and be a humble person. That's what I have been doing."
Humble is a word no one used to describe Adu last season. He angered his teammates at times with behavior that was like that of, well, a teenager.
His teammates saw that behavior as disrespectful. Adu riled Nowak with his me-first mentality - he criticized the coach for not playing him more - and inconsistent practice habits.
"We spent six months trying to get him to understand what the team was all about," Nowak said. "This year it is a different story. It was difficult for him to accept that besides him, we had 23 other guys and were going to make sure the best team was going to play.
"I think at the end he was a big part of this team because he understood. He was not only Freddy Adu for himself; he was part of D.C. United, championship team."
Nowak was criticized for benching Adu but led United to a championship with Adu in a supporting role. Adu said he finally understood about halfway through last season what it takes to prepare and act like a professional.
That has carried over to this season. Nowak said he has noticed a difference in Adu but isn't ready to put him in a starting role.
"Why should I [treat him differently]?" Nowak said. "I feel like he is mature enough to take some heat. I am fair to all my players. If somebody is not happy with that, we can talk about it. But I am not going to make any exceptions, whether it's Steve Guppy, who is 36 years old, or Freddy Adu, who is 15. Everybody is treated the same."
And the coach still is trying to temper the outside pressure on Adu. …