14-year-old Adu gets huge welcome in debut

But phenom is little factor in United's opening win

April 04, 2004|By Tommy Ventre | Tommy Ventre,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - If nothing else, it had to rank among the most anticipated substitutions in the history of American soccer.

All eyes were on Freddy Adu yesterday as he strode toward the officials table between the benches of the San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United to check in.

The fans at RFK Stadium - a capacity 24,603 of them - began to rise and chant "Freddy, Freddy" and toss confetti and white streamers as the numbered placards that signaled the substitution went up - Adu's 9 for Alecko Eskandarian's 11.

From across the field, the referee acknowledged the move, and Adu, 14, jogged onto the soggy playing surface, triggering an eruption of flashbulbs, "Freddy" signs and red, yellow, and green flags of Ghana, Adu's native country.

And so sports history was made yesterday, with Adu's entry in the 61st minute of United's season opener making him the youngest person to play for a major American pro team since 1887.

United won the game, 2-1, over the defending Major League Soccer champion San Jose Earthquakes, getting goals from Jaime Moreno and Eskandarian.

But for most, the score was secondary. They were there to see Adu, and they finally got to see him with slightly less than 30 minutes to play.

He touched the ball no more than 10 times, and his only chance to showcase the gifts that have already made him famous was thwarted by veteran defender Jeff Agoos, though he still called his debut a success.

"It went great," said Adu, who later admitted to feeling a step slower than the players around him. "I had fun out there and it was a great atmosphere. ... The fans were great, we fed off of them and we got the win."

Said San Jose's Landon Donovan, who congratulated Adu at game's end with a bear hug: "He held his own. I'm sure it was faster than he could have imagined, but I think he'll be fine."

Adu's entry capped a tide of anticipation that had been rising since United made him the top pick in January's draft.

Yesterday's game was a sellout - although tickets were available only for RFK's lower seating and private boxes - and United issued more than 250 press passes to national and international media.

Earlier in the afternoon, Adu Fever had reached the streets encircling RFK. Vendors peddled Adu T-shirts and jerseys - some authentic, others clearly not. Scalpers were trying to sell $24 tickets for as much as $60.

A party atmosphere prevailed in the surface parking lots just outside the stadium, where fans tailgated, listened to live music and dribbled soccer balls on patches that were more grass than mud.

"We're very excited that Freddy is here," said Kim Klyberg, president of the D.C. United fan club that calls itself the Screaming Eagles.

"We've noticed a surge in our season ticket sales. We've noticed a surge in our membership - we just took a few new ones this afternoon to put us around 300. People are interested in coming back now."

After halftime, Adu and five teammates began to loosen up behind United's bench. The "Freddy" chants rose, peaking after United's Bobby Convey missed a wide-open net, keeping the score 2-1. Minutes later, Nowak inserted Adu.

"In my first game, I was knocked unconscious, broke two fingers and had amnesia," said Eskandarian, who joined United last season after a standout career at Virginia. "So in my eyes, I think he did pretty good."

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