In the most exhilarating move in its short history, Real Salt Lake traded for teenage sensation Freddy Adu on Monday, acquiring one of soccer's most heralded and promising young players at a time when it otherwise was being scrutinized over its controversial stadium financing plan.
"I'm definitely looking forward to this," Adu said.
The effervescent 17-year-old arrived in Salt Lake City late Monday night, all smiles at being delivered from D.C. United to a team willing to play him at his natural position of attacking midfielder in the hope that he can develop into one of the league's premier superstars - and not just one of its most heavily hyped.
That wasn't the case at United, where Adu clashed with coach Peter Nowak, complaining about playing time and his role on the team.
Such conflicts are what led his agent to contact RSL about reuniting Adu with coach John Ellinger, for whom Adu played while growing up - anointed by age 12 as the future of American soccer - in the U.S. Soccer residency program.
"I just felt like I needed to go to an environment where I would get an opportunity to play my natural position and I'll get that here," Adu said. "I'm just real excited about it, because I also get to be with the coach I started with, who knows me. We have an amazing relationship, and when I have a great relationship with my coach, I play my best soccer, so hopefully that's the case."
RSL acquired Adu and backup goalkeeper Nick Rimando by trading a player allocation and backup goalkeeper Jay Nolly to D.C. United, and the team plans to give Adu every opportunity to become the new face of the franchise and perhaps generate enough enthusiasm to help revive public support for a new suburban stadium.
"He makes us a better team," Ellinger said. "We've all seen flashes of what he can do. Personally, I think he needs a fresh start . . . a new environment, new teammates, and new crowd to support him."
Having said he dreams of playing for a top European team, Adu is constantly dogged by speculation that he will leave the U.S. when he becomes eligible to do so on his 18th birthday June 2. He trained for two weeks with Manchester United in England recently, but declined Monday to address the possibility that he will leave RSL before his first season with the team is even over.
"Our intent is to keep him here for several years," general manager Steve Pastorino said.
Adu played for three seasons for United, after leaving Ellinger and the residency program. He recorded 11 goals and 17 assists and twice was named an all-star, but chafed at playing on the outside rather than in the midfield, and complained about playing time in each of his first two seasons.
And though he started 29 of 32 games this past season, he also blamed United for ruining his chances of making the U.S. team for the World Cup in Germany last summer.
But all of that seemed light years away when he stepped, beaming, off an airplane in Utah on Monday night, just a few hours after RSL also waived four players, including starting defensive midfielder Douglas Sequeira.
"I just want to help this team make the playoffs," Adu said.