By Justin Diaz
As I woke up at about 2pm (my summer sleeping habits are terrible), I considered how great it is to be a Philly fan. The Phillies just took 9 out of 10, and Hunter Pence has been everything we could have hoped he'd be. The Eagles, of course, are set to start the pre-season tonight with guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Ronnie Brown making their Philly debuts. Then I check my twitter feed (@justindiaz92, for those interested) and see this post from our account: "NBC Philadelphia is reporting that star US player Freddy Adu is coming back to the USA to play for the Philadelphia Union. More to come on this." Moments later, the confirmation tweet: "Union News: Fox Sports is reporting that Freddy Adu will sign with the Philadelphia Union on Friday."
I felt instant elation. We are becoming spoiled. The stars of the sports world all want to come to Philadelphia, with the Union joining the Phillies and Eagles in adding the premier free agent of their league. It is incredible in every sense of the word, as it goes against what we expect. According to the Philly script, Lee, Nnamdi, and Adu should have been on the verge of signing with us before some other team sneaked in to steal them, not the other way around. While the championships have yet to come, surely they are on the way.
For what it's worth, Adu is most likely the second-most recognizable U.S. name to the casual soccer fan. The skeptics will point out that he hasn't met the hype he garnered when he signed with D.C. United at the age of fourteen, and to an extent they are right. For much of his career Adu has not played up to his potential. That has changed recently.
That Adu made the national team for this summer's Gold Cup shocked most of the experts. His struggles led many to believe he couldn't handle the big stage or the expectations that the nation had heaped upon him, and for the entirety of the group stage and the quarterfinal matchup against Jamaica he sat the bench, certainly frustrated but waiting for an opportunity to make his impact.
That opportunity came in the next match. With the attack stagnant in the semis against Panama, who beat USA while Adu was on the bench in group play, Adu came on in the second half and delivered an excellent cross that led to Clint Dempsey's game-winning goal and the 1-0 final. As the ball struck the net, you could almost see the weight come off of Adu's shoulders. He was a new man and, most importantly in any sport, a confident man.
That confidence parlayed itself into a well-deserved start in the final vs. Mexico, and once again Adu proved he wanted to be a mainstay on the national team. His deft passing set up both of the USA's early goals, and while the national team ultimately lost 4-2, Adu's coming-of-age performance impressed all US soccer fans.
Now we in Philly get to see the new Freddy Adu, and it should be spectacular to watch. While Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux have been great for the Union in the attacking third, the Union's biggest problem has been getting forward on the attack. Defensive-minded midfielders like Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel have certainly helped on the back end, but provide little in the way of offense. With the addition of Adu, that all changes. His speed allows him to be defensively responsible and also enables him to join the attacking forwards on a rush. Look for much more dynamic offense from the Union as we approach the end of the MLS regular season and enter the playoffs.
The Union already had the best team in the league. The defense has been spectacular, Faryd Mondragon has been a wall, and the team seems to get a result every time out. Just like the Phillies had only one hole (right-handed bat), so too did the Union (attacking midfielder). Also like the Phillies, the Union wasn’t content to just hope they had enough to win it all; they went out and got the best player on the market for that need to give them the best chance to win. The players are in place, and now the fun begins. Sit back and enjoy it, Philly. We may never have it this good again.