Juan Agudelo (front) of the U.S. fights for the ball with South Africa's Siyabonga Sangweni during their Nelson Mandela Challenge soccer match in Cape Town, November 17, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Freddy Adu is back in the news, such as it is, for yet another instance of failure.  Danish side Randers, best known to American soccer fans as the club Yura Movsisyan currently calls home, brought in the disappointing American for what was either a trial with a potential contract at stake or a no-expectations training invitation, depending on the particular report.  With Adu, the spin goes both ways.  Pinning down whether Freddy blew his chance or if there was a chance to be had at all is difficult.

If he wasn't Freddy Adu, deposed golden boy of soccer in America, the story would be nothing but a blip on the Yanks-abroad radar manned by various sites and message boards.  As it is, Freddy's continuing descent into career oblivion is an opportunity for some to revel in the downfall of a player who was probably never good enough to deserve the praise - and money - he received.  Though the labels and accolades thrown Adu's way were not of his making, and it's likely the hype irrevocably damaged his development as a player, his failure to live up to his promise makes him an easy target.  It's simpler to assume that Freddy doesn't work hard enough or has an over-inflated ego (which, though pumped up by the American media and corporate money, we indict him for not shedding by now) than to imagine that he's just not good enough.

Freddy is the obvious poster boy for American soccer hype, the cautionary tale invoked every time another young player appears in danger of overexposure.  We (the collective American soccer "we") are so fearful of repeating the mistakes made with Adu that we feel obligated to preach patience - loudly - on anyone deemed too young  or inexperienced to handle the mantle of "next big thing."  Ostensibly, we're protecting the player.  In reality, we're protecting ourselves.

17 year-old Juan Agudelo (now 18 year-old Juan Agudelo - happy majority, Juan) scores for the National Team, and the response is stunningly immediate.  Before the name "Adu" can even be mentioned, before any real movement of hype begins, we are already admonishing ourselves against promoting Agudelo to "soccer savior" status too soon.  It's silly, frankly, because the reaction lays all of our phobias to bare; Freddy's story looms so large, and his current status is such a stark reminder of how sure-things rarely are, that we barely appreciate how much we, and the soccer landscape in the United States, have changed.  The changes are many, they are significant, and while they don't guarantee we'll avoid another Adu-like failure of some young talent, they make it very improbable we'll be snowed into crowning anyone the way we did Freddy.

In that way, Freddy Adu served an important purpose despite never truly impacting the American game as a player.  He was our first prodigy, and like anyone experiencing something for the first time, we had no understanding of how to handle him or the hype.  Just as an adolescent with a crush, feelings were magnified, extreme, and misleading.  Imbued hope didn't match up with Freddy's actual abilities.  The soccer community imagined him as America's first transcendent soccer star, while corporate America scurried to sell his future greatness to the rest of the country at large.  The negative impact of the Adu Experience is still being felt through general sports media who continue to hold his failure against the game (and the population of casual sports fans who follow their lead), but even then, and admittedly in retrospect, Freddy's legacy is less one of false-dawn than it is of lesson learned.

Because we have learned, as the evidence of the premature tearing down of the hype surrounding Agudelo proves (though this is in a way just another form of hype).  Even if the Adu period set the game back on the road to mainstream acceptance, whatever that means in a fractured nation of 300 million, it also undoubtedly hastened our maturity.  American soccer fans may be easily embittered by regular mentions of Adu's name by the game's detractors (the implication is that every soccer fan is guilty foisting Adu on the rest of America or that Adu's unfulfilled promise is an indictment of the sport's worthiness, and we're sick and tired of having to hear it), but his example is valuable as a deterrent to firing up the hype machine before it is time.

It's practically Pavlovian.  We rationalize that preaching patience Agudelo is necessary to insulate him from unrealistic expectations the likes of which ruined Adu.  We're set on keeping these young players "in-house", within the protective bosom of the soccer community, out of fear that the marketing types will exploit them to a disastrous end.  We don't want the mainstream sports media to take unproven soccer talent and turn it into American soccer's anointed can't-miss future world class superstar, because, well, that didn't work out so great the last time.

Thankfully for Juan Agudelo (and anyone else for that matter), we've already had a Freddy Adu.

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