There isn't going to be much for American soccer fans to remember about the U.S. national team's 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday as the days, months and years go by. But one thing that will be remembered, or at least should be remembered, is that this was the game when Freddy Adu showed he is ready for a serious role with the national team.
The skillful midfielder earned the start Wednesday and made the most of his 45 minutes on the field (he was replaced at halftime after suffering a slight knock). He danced, darted, dodged and delivered passes the likes we haven't seen from a national team player since before John O'Brien disappeared to the beaches of California.
Freddy Adu was a bright spot against Spain.
Above all, Adu had ideas. He could look at the defense in front of him and find the key to at least try to unlock it. Whether deep near the midfield stripe (where he delivered a pin-point long pass to an on-running Eddie Johnson) or in the penalty area (where he dropped off a handful of dangerous passes), Adu looked comfortable on the ball and eager to make things happen. These are elements that have been sorely missing from a U.S. attack that has grown stale and too reliant on set piece goals.
After showing some flashes of ability as a substitute late in the U.S. team's 2-0 loss to England last week, the 19-year-old playmaker was handed his chance to start Wednesday and made a strong case for staying in the starting lineup when World Cup qualifying starts in two weeks.
Yes, it was just one game, but the truth is Adu has shown good glimpses in previous national team appearances. He showed promise in limited minutes against England and also looked dangerous at times in the U.S. team's wins against Switzerland and South Africa last fall.
So why the delay in his arrival into the starting lineup? Concerns about his work rate and willingness to defend exist, as well as questions about whether he is ready to be a 90-minute player. He was used exclusively as a sub in late-game situations by Benfica, at least before essentially becoming a forgotten player and not seeing the field in the season's final months.
Perhaps all that time without playing has helped give Adu a new perspective on things because he has shown determination and eagerness to prove that his youth national team heroics can be translated on the senior national team level now, not a few years from now.
If Adu has, in fact, grown up and is ready to challenge for a regular starting spot for the national team, it couldn't have come at a better time. With Clint Dempsey struggling with his form and DaMarcus Beasley still working his way back from a lengthy injury layoff, Adu should have plenty of chances this summer to prove that he can deliver moments of magic on a consistent basis (especially if teammates start finishing off the chances he creates).
The reality is there is no other player in the U.S. national team pool like Adu. Donovan can pass well but isn't someone who holds the ball, surveys and delivers the killer pass quite like Adu does. Donovan is more adept at running at defenses and latching on to the types of passes Adu can deliver. The same can be said for Dempsey and Beasley, who could all benefit from Adu working his way into the starting lineup.
Is Bradley ready to give Adu the keys to the U.S. midfield? He would probably feel better about doing so if he had a true ball-winning defensive midfielder ready to do the heavy lifting for Adu. With Michael Bradley more of a linking midfielder than pure ball-winner, the job of piano carrier to Adu's piano player will likely fall to Maurice Edu or Ricardo Clark, once one of them shows they are ready to excel on the international level.
Adu should have another chance to shine Sunday against Argentina. If he can put on another promising performance like he did against the Spaniards, Adu will make a very strong case for being a starter once World Cup qualifying begins. If anything, the home-and-home series against Barbados, and second round of qualifying that follows, could very well be the matches where Adu emerges as the must-start offensive leader that he has been for every youth national team he's been on since coming on the scene some five years ago.
If he does, we will be able to look back a few years from now on the Spain match, when a 19-year-old Adu managed to shine on a field full of stars, as the game that truly showed us that Adu might be ready to be more than just a super sub.