Hoping Harper and RGIII Hype Isn't Much Adu
Jul 30, 2012 -- 10:43am

   The Monday sports section of "The Washington Post" includes, of course, the latest on rookie Robert Griffin III and a game story on the Nationals wild 11-10 win at Milwaukee with the help of a run scored by 19-year-old Bryce Harper.  These are great days indeed to be a young sports star in D.C.

     There is also, at the end of the Post's Digest section - sort of an overflow bin to put stories like the Kastles win over the Springfield Lasers and Fred Couples win at the Senior British Open - this item: 
     Jack McInerney scored in the 90th minute to give the Philadelphia Union a 2-1 MLS victory over the New England Revolution on Sunday night in Chester, Pa.
     Freddy Adu also scored for the Union (7-10-2), which has won four of its last five games.
     Freddy Adu.  That would the still young, 23-year-old Freddy Adu, but a Freddy Adu nearly a decade removed from hype that now makes what RGIII and Harper are getting seem blase in comparison.  At 14, Adu became the youngest athlete to sign a professional team contract when the D.C. United drafted him number one overall in the 2004 MLS Superdraft.  A year earlier, Nike Chairman Phil Knight said this to Sports Illustrated:
"Freddy has the potential to bring soccer almost for the first time into the public's consciousness.  Soccer in the United States isn't really part of the culture.  What it needs, I think, is a superhero, and he clearly could be it.  Now that's putting a lot of pressure on him, but the kid's got all the potential to do that."
     Nike jumped in, signing Adu to a $1 million deal.  The United ponied up $500 thousand a year in salary.  He appeared in studio for ESPN's "Pardon the Interuption", and got rave reviews for his poise from Tony Kornheiser, who insisted he must 30-years-old.  And the topper - a commercial with Pele.  In the same way that LeBron James came in to the NBA as the next Michael Jordan, Adu would succeed Pele as the greatest to ever play soccer.  At 14, when most kids start carrying their books to high school, Freddy Adu was carrying the game of soccer on his shoulders.  The burden proved to be too heavy.
     There were signs of trouble right away.  The United's 2004 opener was nationally televised on ABC and Adu didn't even start the game.  He was the reason ABC aired the game in the first place!  Adu did appear in all 30 of the United's games that season, scoring five goals.  But given the hype, five goals a game seemed in order.  And it got worse.
     Over the next two seasons, he complained about playing time, was a suspended for a game and totaled only six goals.  After three disappointing seasons, soccer's "superhero" was quietly dealt to Real Salt Lake.  Though he did make the U.S. National Team roster, Adu has been largely forgotten, even by soccer fans.  Raise your hand if you knew Adu was playing for the Philadelphia Union.
     RGIII is 22-years-old with a Heisman Trophy on his mantle, and although Harper is only 19, he played junior college and minor league baseball.  It's highly unlikely either will shrink and disappear like Freddy Adu.  But seeing his name as an, "Oh by the way," in the Digest section of the Post did make me pause and reflect for just a moment.
Let's Get Serious
     Special seasons don't always announce themselves in grand fashion.  The one the Redskins put together 21-years-ago in winning their last Super Bowl, wasn't exactly a shocker, but few predicted the Skins would roll through the year the way they did.  It turned out to be one of the most dominating seasons any team in NFL history has ever had.
     While the baseball season still has two grinding months to go, it's time to start paying attention to what's happening to our local team.  This might be that special season for the Nationals.  They figured to be good in spring training and have remained in first place most of the season.  Sure, the Braves are staying on their tails (just four games back as of Monday morning) and delivered what might have been a season-crushing loss the week before last when they came from 9-0 down to win at Nationals Park, but if you saw what happened Sunday at Miller Park you might want to be a believer. 
     Down 7-3 to the Brewers in the 8th inning following a rare less-than-solid start from Gio Gonzalez followed by disastrous relief from Ryan Mattheus, it would have been easy to pack it in and start thinking about the homestand that starts with the Phillies on Tuesday, but they didn't.  With a Roger Bernadina homer, a couple of hits and a wild pitch, the Nats tied it at seven.  
     Matthues, still on the mound, then gave up back-to-back homers in bottom of the eighth to Nori Aoki and Carlos Gomez.  At 9-7, you figured that was it.  But NOOO.  In the 9th, Michael Morse hit his second homer of the day to tie it again.  And in the 11th he delivered what turned out to be the game-winning two-run double.  Yes, Tyler Clippard added some drama by throwing a gopher ball to start the bottom of the 11th, but he finished the job with a strikeout, groundout and foul out.  As thrilling an 11-10 game as you'll ever see to complete a 6-1 road trip.  A special win in what might be a special season.
     Yes I know the dog days of summer are here.  Yes, I know Stephen Strasburg is only about six weeks away from being shut down.  But let me leave you with this thought.  The x-factor is manager Davey Johnson, who took a team not that much unlike this one to the World Series championship 26-years-ago.  The ace of that 1986 Mets team, Dwight Gooden wasn't shut down.  Gooden went 17-6 during the regular season and pitched well during the Mets' thrilling National League Championship series win over Houston, but in the World Series, Gooden proved to be more of a negative than a positive.  He made two starts against Boston, lost both and had an ERA of 8.00.  Davey can win without his ace.  He's done it before. 
     First place on August first is a big deal.  It may be time to start thinking about this as a special season.

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