Much Adu about nothing
There really is something strange about soccer in America.
I know it's wildly popular with parents who see it as a more civilized form of sport for their kids than football or baseball. And, with a tiny segment of society, it's a chance for a kind of Euro-sophistication. There's an element of snobbery at work that I've noticed in soccer fans for years.
They seem to think I'm some sort of Neanderthal for suggesting that it's a boring spectator activity that pales in comparison to our higher-scoring and, yes, more violent sports.
'Well, it's the world's most popular sport,' soccer fans say, ignoring my counterargument that, actually, getting drunk and raising hell at games is an even more popular sport than soccer itself. These people don't want to hear that, because they don't identify with soccer hooligans. They identify with kings and queens.
'Well, you don't understand the game,' they say. Yeah, it's really hard to figure out a game where they boot the ball past a goalie every hour or so, roll around on the ground as if mortally wounded every time they're touched by another player and basically try hard to make it look as if something's actually happening.
'Watch them, what great athletes they are Ñ they never stop running,' they say. No, you watch them. I've tried, and what I see is that the players in the immediate area of the ball run around, but many of the others downfield stand stock-still with hands on hips. Or sometimes they all stand around with hands on hips while they wait for the ball to come back in from out of bounds.
In fact, it's a game that requires less skill than tetherball. Training? Run a few miles with a ball in front of you. You just can't help but kick it once in a while. If you want advanced training, buy a Hacky Sack.
But that's OK. In the United States, soccer is like fishing. It's fun to do, but nobody ever pays money to watch someone else do it. TV ratings and attendance are awful, even though we're now working our way through the second generation of people who played the sport in their childhood. As a sports columnist, I don't worry much about soccer, because it's really not a sport Americans care about.
But news came down last week that a 14-year-old Potomac, Md., prodigy, Freddy Adu, has signed a professional contract to play for the Washington team in Major League Soccer. MLS beat out several big-time foreign teams, including Manchester United, for his signature on a four-year contract.
Part of the reason the native of Ghana is signing to play in the United States, of course, is that European leagues have the good sense to prohibit children from playing any kind of professional match against adults. He'd have had to play for some sort of junior club team over there. So Freddy's agent says he'll play for D.C. United for a while.
'Freddy is excited to begin his professional soccer career in this country, and to participate with the U.S. national teams to further develop and then one day take his craft overseas,' said Richard Motzkin, the agent.
It probably tells you everything you need to know about MLS that a 14-year-old kid can even be talented enough to play in the league.
I just hope he can get a ride to practice after school. But can you imagine the uproar if some 14-year-old signed a four-year contract to play for the Yankees? Or the Knicks? Or the Colts? Well, not that he could Ñ because those leagues prohibit such things. As well they should. I mean, people here still moan when an 18-year-old signs an NBA contract.
But in the world of American soccer, a strange place that I obviously could never hope to understand, Freddy Adu will be thought of as something of a young Mozart or Shakespeare. He'll be hailed as a child prodigy carrying the banner for an entire country that's eager to produce its first international soccer star. Perhaps he's even The Chosen One who will finally bring U.S. pro soccer to the masses. That's what they're really hoping for with Freddy Ñ a charismatic reason for more than a handful of Americans to watch the MLS on television.
Good luck, Freddy. I hope you're up to your strange world's lofty expectations.