The 18-year-old returns to the field for RSL as talks continue regarding his possible move to Europe
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Freddy Adu was back playing for Real Salt Lake for the first time in five weeks against legendary Boca Juniors of Argentina in an exhibition game in front of 16,378 at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday night.
Whether he's around much longer remains to be seen.
Just as the 18-year-old was starting at striker for RSL and scoring on a penalty kick in a 1-1 tie, The Associated Press reported that transfer talks between his agent at Benfica of Portugal had broken down. Although the club and Major League Soccer had reached agreement on a $2 million transfer fee - the league owns the contracts of all its players - the sides were not able to agree on contract terms.
That doesn't mean the deal is dead, however.
Technical director John Ellinger said Adu told his agent to keep working on a transfer, though Adu said after the game that he has "no idea what's going on" and that he "can't really comment on it. I don't really know the exact logistics."
His agent, Richard Motzkin, declined to comment. "When the right offer and the right team comes along, I know he will let me know," Adu said.
At least two other teams - Tottenham Hotspur in England and Celtic FC in Scotland - have shown interest in Adu, but were seen as unlikely suitors because of the difficulty Adu would have obtaining a work permit to play for those teams.
"I told my agent, just handle everything," Adu said. "Just check in every now and then, but go ahead and handle everything because I don't want it to distract me. I'm just pretty happy and focused right now and when I'm happy, I play my best, and I just want to keep that going."
Losing Adu would represent a failure of sorts for RSL, which expressed hope when it traded for him seven months ago to keep him in Utah for several years, despite knowing that he turned 18 last month and became eligible to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in Europe.
But Adu has done little for RSL - one goal and two assists in 11 league games this season, with RSL still winless with him on the field - and his departure would clear considerable room under the league salary cap to allow coach Jason Kreis to continue his rebuilding project.
Adu makes $550,000, the most on the team, and Kreis has been pursuing two Argentine players, striker Edgar Espinola and midfielder Javier Morales of UC Vecindario in Spain.
Plus, the longer Adu stays with RSL this season, the more likely he is to reach certain goal-scoring levels that would require RSL to compensate D.C. United with better draft picks as a condition of the trade that brought him to Utah. His contract also stipulates that he will have to occupy RSL's valuable "designated player" roster spot - the mechanism that allows teams to exceed the salary cap to sign marquee players - if the league picks up its two-year option on his contract and he remains with RSL next season.
That could ultimately force the team to trade him or somehow acquire another designated player spot if Adu stays and they also use their existing designated player spot on one of the Argentinean players.
In other words, RSL would not be upset to see Adu go - which is why it has not protested the league negotiating his transfer.
"We're ecstatic if he stays," Ellinger said. "But we're ecstatic for him if he leaves."
In his first game since returning from a star performance at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada, Adu wound up playing 68 minutes for RSL against Boca Juniors, and left moments after Boca Juniors equalized when Mauro Boselli beat RSL's Willis Forko to head in a cross from Alvaro Gonzalez.
Boca Juniors nearly went ahead twice in the final 17 minutes, but Neri Cordozo and Marcos Mondaini both missed open shots after having dribbled around fallen RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Still, RSL has played encouragingly in its exhibitions against Everton and Boca Juniors, even as Kreis has mixed up his lineups to experiment with so many new players.
"We're very, very pleased with the progress that has been made over the past two weeks," Kreis said. "We feel like maybe the tide is turning for us."
RSL 1, Boca Juniors 1
* Freddy Adu scores on a penalty kick in first-half extra time, in his first game for RSL in five weeks.
* Boca Juniors' Mauro Boselli equalizes on a header off teammate Alvaro Gonzalez's cross in the 67th minute.
* Coach Jason Kreis again substitutes liberally, using 17 players as he works to get a feel for all his new acquisitions.