The story lines have repeated themselves across the country: The US can’t hold a lead against a quality opponent (think Brazil in 2009 Confederations Cup Final), the defense got torched by a team comprised of far more technically gifted players, and manager Bob Bradley can’t make adjustments on the fly or change tactics within a game.
Got it. Mexico scored four unanswered goals to win 4-2, three of which were a thing of beauty, and have solidified themselves not only as the best team in CONCACAF, but as serious contenders (if they figure out their defense) for World Cup 2014. Their core of young, talented, yet experienced players, Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Giovanni dos Santos (Tottenham), Pablo Barrera (West Ham), and Andres Guardado (Deportivo La Coruna) are all nearing their prime and will only get better over the next few years.
For Barrera and Guardado, who are both on the open market this summer, more than a few clubs will be calling.
For the US, it’s another disappointing loss after such a promising start.
This brings us to the point of our little article. We won’t focus on the wobbly defense that couldn’t keep up with Mexico’s talent and running off the ball. We won’t focus on the fact that the US still can’t find a decent striker in a big game.
Instead, let’s look at the one bright spot: That Freddy Adu may be back and better than ever.
Not only did Bradley see something in the 22 year-old most recently playing in the Turkish second division by inviting him to pre-tournament camp, he included Adu in that 23-man roster. Then, after three games in which the languid US was desperate for creativity while Adu didn’t dress, Bradley gave him the nod in the knockout stages by including him on the game-day lineups.
This means that Adu must have been tearing it up in training sessions. He must have been so dirty that even Bradley couldn’t deny it.
So, the coach’s initial faith in a player that hasn’t worn a US jersey for two years paid off when Adu entered the semi-final against Panama with 20 minutes remaining and took over. His creativity on the ball, his vision, and his ability to create while running at defenders was the difference maker in the semi-final victory.
And how did Bradley repay Adu for saving his job? (Because yes, Bradley would have been in trouble if the US didn’t reach the final) By starting him in the final. And Adu didn’t disappoint. He created the first goal by delivering a superb front-post corner to the head of Michael Bradley after winning the corner himself. Remember, Landon Donovan has been the default free kick taker for the US over the years. For Adu to take the left-sided corners says one thing, and for him to take a dangerous free kick instead of Lando later in the game says another.
Adu was also the unsung hero behind the US’s second goal, receiving a pass with his back towards goal and turning his defender before leaving it off to Clint Dempsey, who assisted Landon Donovan’s finish.
Though Adu ran out of gas in the final 15 minutes, after dos Sanots’ wonder chip that left Tim Howard looking like a ranting 6 year-old flapping around in a sandbox, his contribution towards the US effort was indelible.
Let’s hope, for his sake and for US Soccer’s sake, that Adu builds off this momentum. Somebody, scouting for some team in Europe, watched this game and liked what Adu has to offer. They saw a player with supreme confidence with the ball at his feet and a subtle ability to use his tiny body to his advantage against bigger and stronger players.
Maybe, just maybe, this is only the beginning for Freddy Adu.