Freddy Adu Plays Hero, Leads U.S. Team Past Panama


"Can it be that it was all so simple then." -- Wu Tang Clan

Desperate times, so they saying goes, lead to desperate measures.

In the realm of the United States National Team, it's difficult to think of a more desperate situation than Bob Bradley, in a 0-0 Gold Cup semifinal vs. Panama, turning to Freddy Adu.

For the sake of some Jeffrey Lebowski approved brevity, going to skip the long, frustrating, underwhelming, wayward, vagabond history of Adu.

Hyped as the next Pele at 14, he found himself playing in the Turkish second division, yet earned a surprise recall to the current U.S. senior national team's Gold Cup squad after two years away.

Naturally, with the U.S. stuck in first gear, grinding to little -- if any -- effect against a disciplined, sturdy Panama team it was the 22-year-old, Ghana-born Adu finally finding the key to unlocking the defense. A long, ball through the air which Landon Donovan -- himself a sub -- to run onto up the right flank, crossing to Clint Dempsey for a trademark finish at the back post.

Bada bing.

Bada boom.

Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

1-0 U.S. and onto the Rose Bowl.

As is the wont of U.S. soccer in the Interwebs, this one moment of vision from Adu is going to be analyzed with as much vim and vigor as the Zapruder film. (Up ... and to the right ... Up ... and to the right.)

Beyond that one moment, is this the renaissance, nay, arrival of Adu? Is this a talented kid that finally found his way? Has the great American soccer hope (and Sierra Mist salesman) finally arrived?

To that, who the hell knows? Bradley dusted off Adu and the world did come screeching off its axis, so there's that.

On a night the U.S. huffed-and-puffed, Adu in a split second made it look all so simple.

Adu has tempted and teased in the past. Twenty-odd minutes of creative-within-the-team-concept soccer does not a career make. It's an encouraging sign, but the hype machine needs to slowly build here, doesn't it? A nice cameo neither makes or breaks a career, though it could revive one that appeared dead.

Just look back to the quarterfinals vs. Jamaica. People were giving Sacha Kljestan more credit than he's gotten in years wearing a U.S. shirt. Withing 10 minutes against Panama people were already calling for his Hipster Runoff approved head.

If there's something to be gained, it's why Bradley -- in the past -- has been resistant to play a guy like Adu, who posses a creative eye, dribbling skills and a little je ne sais quoi, which can turn a match on its head. How long have we all cried out for that presence in the middle of the field? Okay, Stuart Holden is basically that player, but doesn't have the panache of Adu ... even with his spiky, blonde anime hair.

How long has packed-in, stout, disciplined defenses by inferior opposition been the bane of the U.S.? Why did it take a do-or-die situation with absolutely nothing clicking offensively, did the wheel start churning inside Bradley's head to play a guy like Adu? Why would it take five years for this to register? By the same token, creative U.S. soccer players with a passing vision and ability to dribble around opponents are about as rare as a Republican senator from New York.

Hey, why worry about it, right? Wednesday night against Panama at Reliant Stadium, it worked.

The Adu pass, and overall solid substitute appearance, glossed over what was otherwise a totally forgettable match for the U.S. At this point in the tournament, that's fully understandable.

Regardless of if you're flying on charter planes or not, moving from Detroit, to Tampa, to Kansas City, to Washington and to Houston in the span of about 11 days takes a toll on your body. Both teams in the semifinal clearly seemed drained, with heavy legs. How this is going to unfold during Saturday night's final in Pasadena is anyone's guess.

That's why using Adu as an impact sub -- as many predicted before the tournament -- proven to be an ace up his sweatsleaves that Bradley the Elder rarely has.

For whatever it's worth, here were the subs Bradley used at the 2009 Confederations Cup: Charlie Davies, Sacha Kljestan x2, DaMarcus Beasley, Conor Casey x4, Benny Feilhaber x3, Jonathan Bornstein x2 and 2010 World Cup: Edson Buddle x3, Stuart Holden, Feilhaber x3, Maurice Edu x2, Herculez Gomez, Beasley.

At the very least, Adu in about 20 minutes proved as -- if not more -- useful than Benny Feilhaber. Many pundits said the U.S. played its best when the Brazilian-born Feilhaber came into the match.

It's also worth noting, the U.S. played the final part of the game with a hybrid lineup with Donovan and Dempsey at forward, with Adu and Alejandro Bedoya behind them, supported by Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in a Kenny Dalglish-approved 4-2-2-2. Doubt this is anything more than a one-time, one-off finish due to the U.S.'s total lack of strikers.

One thing is certain, after 90 mostly forgettable minutes the U.S. is where it wants to be -- in the Gold Cup final with a ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup on the line.

In the words of Nick Lowe:

And so it goes and so it goes
And so it goes and so it goes
But where it's goin' no one knows

Other Thoughts:

* Donovan on the bench -- there seems to be a lot going on behind the scenes and Lando is locking out the media -- worked for the best. He came on with fresh legs and ran at Panama for 45 minutes. It wasn't his best game ever, but effective enough.

With the way Kljestan played, hard to see a scenario where Donovan starts on the bench in the final.

In the reading too much into things department, Dempsey certainly did a lot to pump up Donovan for his pass on the goal.

* Dempsey remains Dempsey and thank goodness for that, right? (Nice move during the Adu postgame. Viva Clint!)

* Granted Panama barely registered an attack, forcing Tim Howard into one tough save, but that's three clean sheets in a row for the U.S. and four of five from the Gold Cup.

* Not the greatest night for Jones and Bradley the Younger, as Panama didn't give them the acres of space that Jamaica did on Sunday. In games like that, their skill sets are almost too similar.

* It only makes sense that the U.S.'s most dangerous plays until the Dempsey goal were on Rory Delap-ian long throw-ins.

* Going to repeat again, barely 48 hours for the U.S. to rest and recover for the final. Good thing one of the team's main sponsors is Gatorade.

* Have to admit it, watching the game on Univision is a lot more fun than Fox Soccer Channel. Better HD picture quality, too.

* As reader Erik points out. Steve Cherundolo and "Friday Night Light's" Matt Saracen are basically the same dude.

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