Freddy Adu, once believed to the the player that would take soccer in the United States to another level, has officially returned to MLS, coincidentally to once again play for his first professional coach. The Philadelphia Union confirmed on Friday that they had signed the 22-year-old after Chivas USA passed on him in allocation. The team said he will not be a Designated Player, despite initial reports that he would be.
Adu will reportedly be available for selection as soon as this weekend, which would be his first MLS appearance since leaving Real Salt Lake to sign with Portugal's Benefica in 2007. Since then, he has failed to find anything close to a permanent home, as Benefica has sent him out on loan every year and he has played in placed like Greece (Aris), France (AS Monaco) and, most recently, Turkey (Rizespor).
During his first stint in MLS, Adu showed flashes of developing into a quality player, but as a teenager playing in a very physical league, he had trouble finding consistency. He played 87 games and scored 11 goals from 2004-06 with DC United, who was then coached by Peter Nowak.
It will be interesting to see how Nowak utilizes Adu as the Union are in the midst of battle for the Eastern Conference. On paper, it may seem like Adu simply replaces the recently departed Carlos Ruiz, but in reality the two player significantly different roles. While Ruiz was a pure scorer, Adu's best attributes are his ability to break down defenders and his playmaking. It's not impossible to see him deployed as a sort of withdrawn forward, but it seems far more likely that he'll be used as a central midfielder.
In recent weeks, that's a role that has been filled by 20-year-old Colombian Roger Torres, but more regularly by Kyle Nakazawa since Nowak has started using more of a central attacking midfielder. Adu would probably be an upgrade over either player, although both have shown positive flashes.