Adu told he needs to play regular club soccer
CENTURION, South Africa (AP) -- With the hype largely behind him, Freddy Adu is being told he needs to start playing regular club football to continue his development as a key member of the United States' squad.
A two-year spell in Europe with Benfica and Monaco, spent mostly on the bench, has helped dampen much of the spectacular fervor and unrealistic predictions of superstardom that greeted him as a 14-year-old professional athlete.
But stand-in United States captain Landon Donovan said Wednesday that Adu, who turned 20 two weeks ago, can only now get the experience he needs to mature as a team leader by spending time on the field.
"More than anything right now, he needs to play games," Donovan said. "On the field is the best way to learn. As far as the maturation off the field goes, that is also a big part of it, too, and I think he's starting to learn that and figure that out.
"From my experience, that was hard for me to learn and I'm still learning. It took a while for me to figure out what that means. Freddy is in the midst of that but as a starting point he knows he needs to get on the field and play games."
It is unclear where that will happen for Adu, who is unlikely to start Thursday's Confederations Cup match against Brazil.
He played just 169 minutes over 10 matches on loan at Monaco this past season and is set to return to Portuguese side Benfica, which paid Major League Soccer $2 million for him in 2007.
Even so, his one goal in 13 international matches would be more than respectable for most young strikers who rarely play at club level.
But his immigrant background and precocious talent long since led sponsors and agents to see him as a perfect marketing figure and trumpet him as the United States' first true football superstar.
At 14, Adu's impending stardom was alluded to by his appearance alongside Brazil legend Pele in a soft drink commercial, and he soon became the youngest player and scorer in Major League Soccer.
But the anticipation generated among many fans was so great that Adu's failure to match the likes of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo was always going to be judged harshly.
A two-year spell in Europe has helped reset those expectations, and United States coach Bob Bradley is just happy for Adu to continue his sporting education at the Confederations Cup.
"I think that sometimes when so much is said and written from the beginning, it creates unrealistic expectations of a young player," Bradley said. "Obviously, the fact that we call him in is an indication that we still see talent and the hope is that he can continue to move himself along.
"Every now and then there might be an example where a player skips a hundred steps -- goes from one to 101 very quickly -- but that's not normal."
That doesn't mean to say that Bradley doesn't think there isn't more to come from Adu.
"He has not reached that potential yet," Bradley said.