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Thursday, February 24, 2005



ALOHA SOCCER CUP


art
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Freddy Adu laughed as Los Angeles Galaxy coach Steve Sampson jokingly proposed a side bet on their golf game yesterday.


Nothing new to Adu
this season

The soccer prodigy paid his dues
in last year’s MLS title run

Freddy Adu is a straight-talker, brimming with energy, positive and full of purpose.

He is 15 years old and about to begin his second professional soccer season with D.C. United, the reigning Major League Soccer champions.

Aloha Soccer Cup

Who: D.C. United vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium.

Radio/TV: None.

Admission: General, $20; reserved, $22-$60. Available at Aloha Stadium, UH box office, military ticket outlets, etickethawaii.com.

Parking: $5

Pregame schedule: Parking lot gates open, 2:30 p.m.; stadium gates open, 3 p.m.; HYSA Under-19 Boys All-Star match, 3:30 p.m.; HYSA Under-11 Girls President's Day Cup championship match, 5:10 p.m.

Note: Tailgating is prohibited.

"I feel this is going to be my breakout year. I'm doing much better and that's awesome," said Adu. "I think I've improved overall -- at least that's what I'm hoping for. And, I've put on 15 pounds since last season.

Standing 5-foot-8, he now weighs 147 pounds.

Adu tasted big-time soccer as an amateur when he played for the United States Under-17 team as a 12-year-old and later with the under-20 team, but to be the No. 1 pick in last year's MLS SuperDraft was unprecedented.

"I knew I was going to turn pro. That was automatic for me. I didn't know I was going to be No. 1 until about two weeks before the draft," said Adu, who graduated from high school last April.

"It was exciting to go to D.C. United. I get to stay home and be with my family and play for a great team."

His family backed him 100 percent in his decision to turn pro. He immediately became a media darling, but it took time for him to fit in with his teammates, and he understands why

"I wasn't accepted right away. I came in with all that hype and I hadn't done anything," said Adu, who came to the United States from Ghana in 1997. "They (teammates) knew me, but it took about half a season for them to believe in me. I had to work hard and prove myself. When I did, they accepted me."

This year things are different. Adu is not a rookie anymore and there is a lot of mutual respect. He was one of three D.C. United players to appear in every match last year. Other than a sprained right ankle before the season started, he was injury-free.

Adu is comfortable playing up top or as an attacking midfielder. The youngest player to appear and score in an MLS match, he had five goals last year. The crowning touch to his freshman season came when the United defeated Kansas City 3-2 in the MLS cup. Adu entered the match in the 65th minute with the United playing a man short and helped protect the one-goal lead.

With the victory, Adu became the youngest player ever to be on the team winning a title in a major U.S. professional team sport. That honor had been held by Art Houtteman, who was an 18-year-old pitcher on the 1945 Detroit Tigers.

"Winning the championship was unbelievable. About halfway through the season we knew we were going to that championship game," said Adu. "We knew it was our year. We just had to do our part, work hard and listen to our coach.

"Winning the championship was so special because we had so many injuries. We never had everyone healthy in the second half, but people stepped up and played a major part in us winning."

It doesn't take a lot of conversation with Adu to know he has no regrets about becoming a pro at an age that had many people wondering if it was the right move for him.

"When I make a decision, I don't second-guess it. I'm loving it," said Adu, who began kicking a soccer ball around at age 2.

He plans to take college courses when time permits and relaxes by listening to music -- especially rap and favorite artist 50 Cent -- or watching television.

Asked if he knew Michelle Wie, Hawaii's outstanding 15-year-old golfer who is playing in this week's LPGA SBS Open at Turtle Bay Resort, Adu, with a touch of humor, said, "Yes, I know about her, but she still has to go to school."

Adu, who took up golf five years ago, played in a benefit tournament for the Leahi Soccer Club at the Ala Wai Course.

"I was disappointed in my short game. I drove the ball well, my approaches were perfect, but when I got on the greens I couldn't make a putt," he said. "I get mad at myself when I miss easy shots."



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