Mike Woitalla of Soccer America wrote a column today… ‘What Went Wrong with Freddy Adu.’ While he offers little as an explanation to Adu’s slow descent from stardom, he points out that not every great young player goes on to be a successful professional star.
I will, however, offer up one idea that may have been of help in Adu’s development - the inclusion of a mentor of similar capabilities. When I was working on the countdown of the Top 25 players in the history of USL-1, one of the items I considered mentioning for player number 2 on the list, Johnny Menyongar, is that he would have served as a perfect mentor for Adu. I left it out because it really didn’t have a lot to do with the countdown, but I still feel that the idea may have produced something if it would have occurred.
At 5-foot, 5-inches Menyongar is actually three inches shorter than Adu, but at the time Adu was beginning his professional career, his diminutive counterpart was still in the prime of his career in USL-1. Menyongar was a successful midfielder and striker in USL and could have been a great example of how a small, skilled player like Adu could utilize his skills at the professional level.
Instead of being dumped into the deep end with top-flight DC United, Adu could have spent a year, maybe two if needed, with Menyongar in the second flight, experiencing the professional game’s rigors, responsibilities and expectations both on and off the field before moving onto MLS or play abroad.
I think often times, these up and coming youth internationals are brought into MLS with the expectation to make the immediate jump to being a first-class professional and improve to be a first-team international player despite only seeing action on the training ground. Instead these players could be gaining valuable experience at a lower level as a starter which would provide a bridge to the top levels of the game.
And as a regular with the Liberian national team, which included a three-year stint as captain, Menyongar would have served as a good mentor in how to balance league and international play. He would have been able to share with him his experiences of playing on a lower-level national team and playing World Cup quality nations, and what to expect when those situations arise. As a fellow small player, Menyongar no doubt has a different view on how to handle those situations that the typical national team coach or squad-mate would not be able to provide.
The thing that always struck me watching Menyongar that I have not seen in Adu is a fierce yet joyful determination on the pitch. Menyongar’s style of play was impossible to shut down because it was a spirit of play that was relentless and creative, something that spread to the other players on the field and mede the team better.
Watching Adu, it always seemed to me like he was searching for something. Perhaps it was how to play a big small-game, something Menyongar mastered years before.