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Dec 13, 2006

D.C. United reap rich haul from Adu trade

Real Salt Lake is in full celebration mode as the reality sets in that Freddy Adu is in town. The young club will trumpet Adu's arrival and quickly make him the face of the franchise, but no amount of hype and optimism is going to change the fact that the trade that brought the golden boy to Utah was lopsided and risky.

Call it a necessary deal for two teams, a shrewd marketing ploy by a young franchise, or the final divorce between a tough coach and an impetuous player. You can call it many things but the final cost for Real Salt Lake makes me want to call it desperate.

On the surface, the trade makes plenty of sense. D.C. United unloads a player whose trade value had peaked and who wasn't truly necessary to its plans while Real Salt Lake finds the type of marquee attraction it needs both on and off the field.

So what is the problem exactly? There are several. Let's start with Real Salt Lake, which once again showed that is incapable of acting like a big-league club. RSL was in perfect position to act on D.C. United's desire to unload Adu, but instead of being shrewd at the negotiating table, RSL management raised their hands and basically told D.C. to take whatever it wanted.

Real Salt Lake deals away a major allocation, valued at somewhere between $250,000 and $350,000, and eats up a large part of its salary cap by adding Adu and Rimando, who made about $75,000 more than Jay Nolly did last year. Rimando could wind up being a solid starter but he hasn't really been the same dynamic goalkeeper he was earlier in his career since having knee surgery in 2003. Now he must play half his games on artificial turf, which makes you wonder if he will be able to hold up physically.

Why would RSL give up so much when it was one of the few teams that realistically could have been in the Adu sweepstakes? Where else was D.C. United going to go to trade Adu for anywhere close to that final price? You might consider a major allocation, an exchange of goalkeepers and a portion of Adu's future transfer revenue to be a worthy price for someone like Adu but the price was far too much. Perhaps we should have expected a lopsided deal when D.C. chief Kevin Payne, a four-time MLS Cup winner, entered negotiations with RSL general manager Steve Pastorino, the same GM who cost his team a $125,000 partial allocation after guessing incorrectly that Toronto FC wouldn't take forward Jason Kreis in the recent expansion draft.

It was too much when you consider the fact that Adu wants desperately to play in Europe as soon as he can leave. He felt that his skills weren't being showcased in D.C. so he forced a trade to a team willing to let him play in an attacking midfield role, a team with a coach he knows very well in John Ellinger.

So what exactly is the best case scenario? The dream scenario is the one RSL officials are trying to suggest is a strong possibility, that Adu will stick around long enough to play in a new stadium in and help turn the team into a winner. If Adu were going to stay for two or three years then you could see the trade proving worthwhile, but betting so much on that probability doesn't seem too wise.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Adu flourishes and his playmaking abilities shine in Salt Lake. That will only make a move to Europe that much more likely and suddenly Real Salt Lake is staring at the possibility of losing Adu next summer, which would make him the most expensive rent-a-player in MLS history.

Okay, so let us assume that Adu stays the entire season. Will his addition alone be enough to turn Real Salt Lake into a strong playoff team? Andy Williams was the team's playmaker a year ago and he's not exactly a slouch. Adu has the skills to upgrade the position but was Real Salt Lake really just a Freddy Adu away from being a quality club? Unless Adu learned how to play defense, I would say the answer is no.

RSL officials keep hinting at the possibility of Adu staying beyond 2007 but does anyone really believe that Adu would stay that long if he is actually playing well? If he stays it would more likely be because he has struggled to adjust to the increased responsibilities that come with being the team's playmaker, making his European prospects bleak.

Real Salt Lake isn't concerned with these scenarios. The team saw a chance to help increase support for its stadium project and made a move that is far more flash than substance. You shouldn't expect the media in Salt Lake City to see it that way either since it has been so soft on Real Salt Lake that you wonder if they would find a positive spin in a stock market crash.

This is not an indictment of Adu's ability as a player. Though some want to label him a flop at 17, Adu has progressed well through his three years in MLS and any notions that he has reached his full potential as a player is absurd. Just because he had ridiculous expectations upon his arrival in MLS does not take away from the real progress he has made as a player. If you were foolish enough to believe that a 15-year-old kid was going to step into a pro league and tear it up, then blame yourself, not Adu.

As much promise as Adu has shown, you wonder if it is the best idea for him to go to a team with a coach he knows so well. Ellinger is known as a player's coach, a dramatic contrast from task master Peter Nowak, who clashed with Adu regularly. The change could help Adu but it also could be damaging if Adu gets too comfortable on a team where a starting spot will be assured. Has he matured enough to handle the responsibility that now rests at his feet? That remains to be seen.

For all the risk Real Salt Lake took on by making this trade, D.C. comes away from the deal in amazing shape by trading away a player once considered untouchable. D.C. United cleared a huge chunk of salary cap space they can use to afford pay raises for young standouts such as Bobby Boswell and Troy Perkins as well as new signings, and acquired a major allocation they can use to sign an impact player that fits their system better than Adu. To top that all off, D.C. managed to deal him to the Western Conference and even scored a piece of the transfer revenue when Adu is sold. In short, Christmas came early in the nation's capitol.

As lopsided a deal as it could wind up being for Real Salt Lake, you almost can't blame Pastorino and Ellinger for making it. Time is running out on their tenures and they surely saw the trade as a high-risk, high-reward gamble. If they are right, Adu could help save their jobs and possibly save professional soccer in Salt Lake City. If they are wrong then they will be fired, Real Salt Lake will be in Real trouble and RSL fans will be left wondering why they ever thought trading for Adu was a good idea.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.