Freddy Adu‘s professional soccer career has seen his reputation soar as high as “savior” status, and plummet to the depths of “cautionary tale”. He’s been in the public eye for so long, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22 years old.
Adu’s unique path makes him a veteran on the United States men’s Olympic soccer team. Head Coach Caleb Porter is depending on him to lead the team through Olympic qualifying and at the 2012 games in London, according to USSoccer.com.
“Caleb wants me to be a leader and wants me to have a big responsibility with this team,” Adu said. “He wants to run through me and get touches and be a big part of the offense. I’ve always got to bring it and be ready to go.”
As a male soccer player looking to compete in his second Olympics, Adu is somewhat of a rarity. The qualifying campaign for men’s Olympic soccer is restricted to players aged 23 and under — although each team is allowed to bring three “over-age players” to the games themselves. Adu was 19 when he represented the U.S. at the Bejing Olympics in 2008. He was the second youngest player on the team in that cycle (only Jozy Altidore was younger).
Things are different this time around. With eight years of pro soccer under his belt, Adu is a grizzled veteran among his peers. Four years of steady progress in MLS were followed by four years in the wilderness of European soccer. Of the 19 players called into training camp ahead of this month’s qualifying tournament, Adu has the most professional experience by some measure.
“I’ve always been one of the youngest guys on the team,” he said. “But now I’m one of the older guys, one of the more experienced guys, and I have to be more of a leader. The guys are looking up to me, asking me questions and looking at me to step up.”
The Olympic qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF region begins on Thursday. The U.S. faces Cuba on that day, Canada on Saturday and El Salvador on Monday at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
The top two finishers in the tournament will advance to the semifinals, which take place on March 31. The two finalists who emerge from the high-stakes semifinals will qualify for this summer’s Olympic games.
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Porter named Adu team captain. The former prodigy’s long, twisted journey has led him to this point. He can stand out among his peers and justify some of the hype that boomed and burst all those years ago.