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U.S. under-17 men

In American debut, Adu leads effort in CONCACAF qualifying.

Freddy Adu
After receiving intense media attention, Freddie Adu finally gets to represent his new nation as the U.S. attempts to qualify for this summer's world championship.
-- U.S. Soccer photo --

By Gary Davidson

(Tuesday, May 4, 2003) -- Despite the dearth of soccer in America's print media, volumes have been written recently about Freddy Adu.

There was the full-page story in Newsweek, a multi-page spread in Sports Illustrated, major features in The Washington Post and New York Times, as well as multitude of wire and other stories appearing in dozens of daily newspapers.

Not bad for a 13-year-old striker who has never played in an international match.

United States fans finally will get the chance to see what Adu can do when he starts for the national under-17 men Wednesday against Jamaica to start CONCACAF Group A qualifying in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

The U.S. has played in biennial world championship tournament at this age group every time it has been held, qualifying for the last six under-17 events and the three U-16 tournaments prior to that when that was the international age limit. The Americans face El Salvador Friday and Guatemala Sunday to complete this round robin.

The winner of Group A advances to the world tournament in Finland in August. The second-place finisher will play a home-and-away series against the Group B runnerup for a third spot. Group B, with first place earning direct qualification, includes Mexico, Canada, Cuba and Costa Rica and will be played March 26-30 in Canada.

Adu, who joined the U.S. under-17 men's full-time residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., in January 2002, did not become eligible to wear the red, white and blue until he became an American citizen February 14, the day after his mother Emilia. The family came to the U.S. from Ghana in 1997, settling in Potomac, Md.

Adu reportedly received his first professional offer -- when he was 10 -- from Italian power A.C. Milan, and already is dealing with projections of superstardom on the World Cup level. Slight at 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, Adu is fast, skilled and strong, well beyond his years.

His greatest accomplishment thus far is leading the Potomac Cougars to the 2001 U.S. Youth Soccer under-14 championship.

This week's qualifying tournament "is a lot of pressure for a young kid," U-17 coach John Ellinger said. "He seems to be juiced up and ready to go. . . Having Freddy available now, his first true international counts. It's a qualifying game. This is the first time he's traveled abroad with us in a year and a half."

"You talk to him and people say how mature he is, but this is going to be a new pressure," Ellinger told Associated Press. "He hasn't had to deal with this one yet because this one is real. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts. I hope his teammates will be there for him, and it can be special."

Adu is sheltered from the media by U.S. officials, but submitted a comment to Associated Press in writing: "I can't wait to put on that jersey because I've never worn it before. I know it's going to feel special putting it on and I know I'm going to have a great time."

The U.S. definitely found itself in the tougher of the two qualifying groups and there is little margin for error if it hopes to maintain its perfect record of advancement. With 17-year-olds, it is difficult to accurately predict their performance, but Jamaica looks to be the toughest Group A foe, El Salvador has had surprising good recent results and Guatemala has the home-field advantage.

"It's funny how it is, but each time we've had pretty tough groups," said Ellinger who has been in charge of the residency program in Bradenton since its inception in 1998 and is with his third set of under-17s. "They always separate us and Mexico (into different groups). It's just about par for what we've had to go through before.

"There's definitely pressure, but it's something that you try to prepare for up to this point. The one thing about qualifying that I've learned through two cycles is expect the unexpected because anything happen, on both a positive and negative aspect."

Joining Adu atop the 4-4-2 formation will probably be recent Major League Soccer draftees Guillermo Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) or Eddie Gaven (MetroStars). Jamie Watson can provide spark off the bench.

John DiRaimondo and fleet-foored Corey Ashe patrol the midfield flanks with Brian Grazier, Danny Szetela and Gonzalez the candidates to man the center of the field. Michael Harrington and Steve Curfman provide valuable depth.

Defensively, the U.S. is led by a pair of skillful, physical central backs in Jonathan Spector and Brandon Owens. Adrian Chevannes and Chris Germani have started recently at right and left back, respectively, backed up by Kyle Helton, while Julian Valentin is a capable reserve at all four back-line positions.

Phil Marfuggi is slated to start in goal against Jamaica tomorrow. He is backed up by Quentin Westberg, the only player on the 18-man roster not in Florida residence. He is from France -- his father is American, his mother French -- and works with Troyes of the nation's first division.

"There's definitely pressure, but it's something that you try to prepare for up to this point," Ellinger said. "The one thing about qualifying that I've learned through two cycles is expect the unexpected because anything happen, on both a positive and negative aspect.

"We're definitely confident, but we know the importance of not thinking ahead of ourselves. Again, it's one game at a time. I've learned that you can't expect anyone to help us. Each game we play, we have to win that game. That way it takes care of getting to the world championship and that's our goal. Win all three and we're in. There are too many variables that we can't control. We've got to control our own."

U.S. under-17 CONCACAF qualifying roster:

Goalkeepers: Phil Marfuggi (West Windsor, N.J.), Quentin Westberg (Saint Cloud, France).

Defenders: Adrian Chevannes (Fort Worth, Tex.), Chris Germani,(Yardley, Pa.), Kyle Helton (Alpharetta, Ga.), Brandon Owens (Murrieta, Calif.), Jonathan Spector (Arlington, Heights, Ill.), Julian Valentin (Lancaster, Pa.).

Midfielders: Steven Curfman (Raleigh, N.C.), John DiRaimondo (St Louis), Eddie Gaven (Hamilton, N.J.), Brian Grazier (Edwardsville, Ill.), Daniel Szetala (Clifton, N.J.)

Midfielder\forwards: Corey Ashe (Virginia Beach, Va.), Guillermo Gonzalez (Paramount, Calif.), Michael Harrington (Greenville, N.C.)

Forwards: Freddy Adu (Potomac, Md.), Jamie Watson (Coppell, Tex.)

Gary Davidson is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent and can be e-mailed at editor@soccertimes.com.

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