United out, but Adu still on stage

Frustrated Nowak cites `distractions' after Fire's 4-0 win

Pro Soccer

October 31, 2005|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON — United exits; Adu still on stage Washington -- He was willing to talk about his team's apparent lack of heart. He was willing to talk about his players' lack of discipline. He was even willing to talk about how disappointed and frustrated he was watching his team bow out of the playoffs with such uninspired play.

But D.C. United coach Peter Nowak would not talk about forward Freddy Adu. In fact, Nowak shook his head in disgust when asked at the post-game news conference whether Adu was a distraction this past week, and whether he'll be back with United next season.

The look on Nowak's face said plenty about one of Major League Soccer's biggest quandaries this year: What to do about Adu?

D.C. United - last year's MLS champion - had just been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, courtesy of a 4-0 rout by the Chicago Fire. Was Nowak really supposed to answer questions about a 16-year-old bench player who didn't enter the match until the second half and got off just one shot?

When that player happens to be the highest-paid player in the league, and also the face of American soccer to many, the answer is a resounding yes. Some of Nowak's frustration, however, was understandable. Adu, who just completed his second season in MLS, is clearly talented, but he may also be in danger of being swallowed up by his own enormous hype.

In the past two years, Adu has appeared in several television commercials, had a 4,980-word article about him appear in The New Yorker and been the subject of a lengthy piece on CBS' 60 Minutes, among other things. But he's not yet one of the best players in the league; nor is he even the best player on his team.

On Oct. 18, Adu caused a minor stir by complaining in the media that he hadn't been playing enough this year (he started 16 of the 25 games he's been available to play), that he might be better off with another team and that D.C. United was ruining his chances of making the United States' 2006 World Cup team. (His agent made similar comments last week.)

United responded by suspending Adu for the Oct. 22 playoff opener against the Fire, which ended in a 0-0 tie.

"Maybe we can finally be finished with this story," Nowak said when asked yesterday about Adu's suspension. "I am getting sick and tired of this."

Adu, who was born in Ghana and raised in Montgomery County, hasn't given any interviews since his suspension, and other than the occasional nod or handshake, he mostly ignored the swarm of media in United's locker room yesterday.

He reportedly apologized to teammates for his comments, which Nowak felt were a distraction on the eve of the playoffs, and most of the other United players were reluctant to even address the situation.

"That whole thing was so blown out of proportion," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "No one in this locker room cares. We're all selfish. We all want to play. It wasn't a big deal."

Adu actually seemed to be the least of United's problems against the Fire. Needing a victory to advance to the Eastern Conference championship, United looked slow and sluggish in the first half, and was significantly outplayed. Fire forward Jack Stewart scored in the 10th minute and Ivan Guerrero found the net twice before halftime, helping the Fire grab a 3-0 lead.

Things got heated as United got more frustrated. In the 55th minute, midfielder Christian Gomez received a red card and was ejected for spitting in the face of Fire defender C.J. Brown after Brown wasn't whistled for a hard tackle.

United was forced to play one man down for the rest of the game, and Fire midfielder Tony Sanneh scored in the 80th minute to make it 4-0. (The Fire will face the New England Revolution on Sunday for the Eastern championship.) United also picked up three yellow cards, including one by Adu, who was called for a vicious cleat to the knee of Fire midfielder Logan Pause.

"It's been a very long season for us," Nowak said. "We'll have all of the offseason to analyze what went wrong. ... Last year, we seemed to play with a purpose. We didn't have any distractions from anybody. This year was different."

Nowak didn't mention Adu by name during the news conference, but his comments certainly sounded as if they were intended for the prodigy.

"Some players, they give everything they have all the time," Nowak said. "Others have different ideas. They go into the game, and some say they have the talent and potential, but when are they going to show it to me?"

But as far as Adu playing somewhere else next season, don't bet on it. United president Kevin J. Payne said in the locker room the team has no plans to trade Adu.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's going to be a member of D.C. United," Payne said. "This is the best place for him. ... His agent doesn't run our team, and his agent doesn't decide what players we play."

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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