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Posted: 3:48 PM- Striker Jeff Cunningham enjoyed the best season of his pro career with Real Salt Lake last season, scoring a career-high 16 goals and nearly winning Most Valuable Player honors in Major League Soccer.
Now that RSL has traded for teen sensation Freddy Adu, however, Cunningham believes he can do even better next year.
"When I heard he was coming, I just smiled, because I'm thinking that's at least 10 more goals," Cunningham said. "He's the real deal. . . . I'm just happy that he's here."
While Cunningham and several other RSL players were praising their newest teammate at an introductory press conference on Tuesday - "we're going to ask for 90 minutes of brilliance, week in and week out," veteran captain Jason Kreis said - the team already was making plans for another player announcement today.
RSL is expected to add striker Luis Tejada of Panama, to provide a physical counterbalance to Cunningham's speed up top in the 3-5-2 formation that coach John Ellinger discovered worked best for the team late last season.
But that also means that for as much high praise as Adu has enjoyed since RSL acquired him in a trade from D.C. United, there could easily be somebody in the locker room not quite as excited that he's here.
Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, perhaps?
Ballouchy did not attend the press conference at the Great America hotel where Adu said he was happy to have obtained his favorite No. 11 from RSL's Chris Brown - "for the small price" of a Playstation 3 video game console.
But he figures to feel perhaps the most impact of Adu's arrival, losing the starting job at his natural attacking midfielder position so Adu can run the show from his preferred spot.
And with Kreis expected to play consistently in the midfield next season so Cunningham and Tejada can occupy the striker positions, Ballouchy - chosen No. 2 in the draft last year specifically for his ability to orchestrate the offense as an attacking midfielder - could find himself fighting for playing time with veteran Andy Williams at a left-side spot in which he did not especially flourish early last season.
"It's going to be interesting to see" what happens, midfielder Carey Talley said. "I know I'm not coming into this season expecting my position to be handed to me, and I don't think anybody will be. . . . Somebody isn't going to be included, and the competition is going to be there. It's going to be tough."
Ellinger said he expects to mostly stick with the 3-5-2 formation that helped RSL nearly make the playoffs last season, and hopes to improve on the "pretty potent offense" that tied for third in the 12-team league with 45 goals last season.
"Freddy's an attacking player, he's gifted," Kreis said. "There's absolutely no question in anybody's mind that he possesses talents that few players in this league possess. And so we need to figure out a way to get him to do that."
For his part, Adu mostly repeated the things he said upon his arrival in Utah on Monday night, before heading back to Florida to continue training with the U.S. Under-20 national team for a CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Panama next month.
"I couldn't be happier to be here," he said. "It's something I wanted. . . . They worked so hard to get me here and I appreciate it, I really do. I feel rebound. I feel excited. And I will do everything in my power to help this organization to the playoffs, because that is the goal - get to the playoffs and move on from there."