The only returning member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad builds on that experience to lead this year’s team for 2012 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying and potentially the 2012 London Olympics.
Freddy Adu typically has been the “prodigy” on any roster he has played on – the next generation talent among a normally older group. But that changes completely as the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team prepares for 2012 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, with Group A play kicking off Thursday, March 22, against Cuba.
Adu is the only returning member of the USA’s 2008 Olympic team, so the 22-year-old now has heightened responsibilities and is expected to bring the necessary leadership of a former Olympian.
“It’s a different role,” Adu said. “I’ve always been one of the youngest guys on the team. But now I’m one of the older guys, one of the more experienced guys, and I have to be more of a leader. The guys are looking up to me, asking me questions and looking at me to step up.”
During the 2008 qualifying, Adu was the team’s primary offensive force as he scored four goals in three matches. It was a successful stretch that Adu hopes he will build on for this year’s qualifying and potentially the 2012 London Olympics.
“It really did help me a lot, big time,” Adu said. “It gave me confidence as a player, and thinking back on having a successful qualifying tournament, albeit four years ago, you still know that you’ve been through it and know what to expect. To just know that you did well during qualifying helps you get your confidence going.”
When the U.S. defeated the Mexico U-23 team 2-0 on Feb. 29 at FC Dallas Stadium, it was evident during the first half that U-23 head coach Caleb Porter sees Adu as one of the focal points in developing offensive chances and maintaining a high level of possession.
“Caleb wants me to be a leader and wants me to have a big responsibility with this team,” Adu said. “He wants to run through me and get touches and be a big part of the offense. I’ve always got to bring it and be ready to go.”
The USA has an assortment of attacking options, and Adu’s presence likely will be based mostly in the midfield.
“I’ve been used on the right side as an inverted winger and sometimes as a No. 10,” Adu said. “It depends on how the game is going, as well, so I have to be ready. Wherever he puts me, a lot is asked of me in playing different roles. It’s not different in the sense that if I am out wide, I’m more pinched in anyway to be a second playmaker. It’s something in the back of my head.”
Adu is relishing Porter’s 4-3-3 system and says it completely suits the dynamic among the team.
“I absolutely love it. It’s very attacking and he gives you freedom, as well,” Adu said. “He lets us breathe and enjoy it. We’re not a bunch of robots out there. When we execute our game plan, it’s going out and moving the ball, a lot of movement, being fluid and not being restricted to one side of the field. And as you’ve seen so far, this team has the players for that. We just attack it and there’s a lot more possession.”
The U.S. opens group play against Cuba at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. It is a venue and environment Adu is familiar with, having played the final two games of 2008 qualifying there. On March 20 of that year, Adu scored twice during a 3-0 semifinal victory against Canada that qualified the USA for the Beijing Olympics.
“The pitch was absolutely great when we played here against Canada [in 2008],” Adu said. “The fans were great. We had a pretty good crowd for the games and the support was absolutely amazing. So I think this year will be something similar to that. I’m excited to be here. The last time here I scored two goals against Canada. I have good memories from this place.”
While the USA touts its possession-driven game plan, the team prepares for a Cuba team that could be looking more at capitalizing with counterattacks.
“We do know that Cuba might sit and try and counter against us,” Adu said. “We have to be careful and not give away the ball too easily and not push to where they can counter, as well. Right now we really have to worry about ourselves and our game and impose our will.”