The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into The Great American Hype Machine as the nation waits for a world class player to emerge…
I was used to waiting. It’s part of the deal when you interview celebrities. This time, in 2004, I was waiting to interview a soccer prodigy. He was supposed to call at 10am. It reached 1pm. I called the Nike representative that set up the interview and asked if she could call him. She rang back an hour later and said he would be calling me in ten minutes. Two more hours went by. I called the Nike rep back again. She apologized and said he was busy playing an intense game of FIFA with friends during some downtime. He finally called at 5pm and didn’t even apologize for making a grown man wait.
You see, Freddy Adu has been making everyone wait his entire professional career. He has shown glimpses of magic with US youth teams but he has been an utter dud everywhere else he has gone. He has played for 13 teams in eight countries over a 12-year career so far. But is it all his fault? He has to take some of the blame for sinking faster than the Titanic. Some say bad attitude, bad practice habits, laziness, no commitment to defence are among some of his problems. My buddy Eric and I theorize about why he continues to move from club-to club and we just assume that he does something behind the scenes to piss off his managers. Some would just say he sucks. But some blame the ‘Great American Hype Machine’.
Yes, we Americans are guilty of cranking up the Hype Machine to epic levels. We are always waiting for our Messi, our Ronaldo, our Pele – but we just get Adu. When Adu signed a pro contract with MLS side DC United at the age of 14 (debatable), we were all swept up in the Hype Machine with no idea he would be spat out 12 years later. Before he ever kicked a ball professionally, Nike gave him huge money and soft drink company Sierra Mist created a cool ad that debuted during Adu’s first pro game. It featured him with Pele on a soccer field competing for the last bottle of Sierra Mist. The ad sprouted from the American soccer intelligentsia saying Freddy Adu was the “next Pele” (Hype Machine at its worst). Even Pele bought in: “His left foot is fantastic. It’s like Mozart. God gave Freddy the gift to play soccer. If he is prepared mentally and physically, nobody will stop him.” Pele may have been an all-time soccer talent, but he’s not an all-time talent evaluator.
Adu is only 26 (debatable) and mentally and physically he seems shot. Many think his career has finally come to an end because he now plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL, a division below MLS. He shows glimpses of being a decent player but when I found this headline the other day I wondered if Freddy was doing ok: “Freddie Adu has gone from ‘next Pele’ to vacuum cleaner salesman on Twitter”.
This brings us to the next great product of the Great American Hype Machine: Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. There is surely no way this kid will be the next Adu, right? Yes, the Machine has churned out hope-to-nope players like Julian Green and Juan Agudelo, and may take down Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood, but I think (and I hope) Pulisic is different. Here’s a few reasons why:
- He is 17 (not 14) and is being groomed with smarts by one of the best clubs for developing talent in Europe.
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp loved him when he was Dortmund’s manager and saw him excel with their youth academy and destroy fools with the US U17 squad (20 goals in 34 appearances).
- He is humble, respectful, hard working and technically sound (rare for an American player).
- He is strong for his size, doesn’t back down from anyone (see his work against some of the strongest players in Germany).
- He feels American. With all due respect to Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and the other German-Americans on the US squad, he is from Hershey, Pennsylvania so he feels authentic.
When Pulisic became the youngest player to score two goals in the Bundesliga this past spring, I went bonkers. It convinced me that he was for real. No fugazi. Legit. Not just a good American player but considered a great European prospect. I mean, when a headline like this appears in the Daily Mail, I believe the hype: “Liverpool face competition from Real Madrid and Manchester City in pursuit of Borussia Dortmund whizzkid Christian Pulisic.”
Are you kidding me? Pulisic wearing the kit of my beloved Liverpool? An American, dancing around the midfield to You’ll Never Walk Alone on one of those special European nights at Anfield? I just hope the Hype Machine leaves him alone. Because if he does come down with a bad case of Adu-itis, I don’t know how much more waiting I can take.