Role model

Adu finds joy, hope through success of friend Johnson

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Last November, while working out in Bradenton, Fla., Philadelphia Union forward Freddy Adu placed a call to Eddie Johnson.

At the time, Johnson didn’t have a team, was contemplating quitting soccer and, Adu recalled, not in very good spirits. But that didn’t stop Adu from trying to convince his good friend to train with him.

“I called him because he was in Orlando and said, ‘Why don’t you come down to Bradenton and work out with me?’” Adu told MLSsoccer.com following the Union’s training session Wednesday. “He said, ‘Eh, I don’t know.’ I was just like, ‘Do it, man. It will be good to see you.’”

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Johnson agreed and ended up staying in Bradenton, where he met up with the Seattle Sounders during their preseason camp.

The rest of the story – Johnson signing with Seattle, enjoying a breakout MLS season, and this week emerging as one of the key players in the United States' World Cup qualifying campaign – has Adu beaming with pride.

“I’m so proud of him right now,” Adu said. “People don’t understand there’s a lot of pressure on us. When you’re going through what he went through – seven or eight months without a team – that’s hard. Sometimes you just sit there and think, ‘Man, what am I doing wrong?’ And you go through it alone because you don’t want anyone else to know you’re going through hard times.”

Adu is certainly more familiar than most with Johnson’s redemption tale. Like Johnson, he was out of the national team picture for a couple of years before a surprise call-up. And while Adu played well after that call-up, helping the Americans to the 2011 Gold Cup finals, he’s once again on the outside looking in, thanks in part to an inconsistent season in MLS.

But all he has to do is look to Johnson to know he can make it back to the national team.

“I’ve experienced it and I know it’s possible,” Adu said. “Whenever I hear people say, ‘This guy is done’ and ‘This guy is never going anywhere,’ I always just kind of smile because it’s like, ‘No.’ I’ve been there. I’ve been through it. You can never write anyone off. And Eddie has proven everybody wrong because I know a lot of people had written him off.”

With three games left in the 2012 season, Adu will be thinking a lot about Johnson. Even though the Union are out of playoff contention, the Union forward knows people like US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann could be watching. He also knows that he still has to show the Philly coaches that he can be a quality 90-minute player for the Union next year, especially after missing the team’s last three games with a quad strain.

And make no mistake: even though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in Philly, this is where he wants to be in 2013.

“Of course I want to be here next year,” Adu said. “I love my teammates. I love my coaching staff. And I love the organization here. They’ve been great to me in bringing me here and with everything they’ve given me.

“Obviously you never know what’s going to happen. Some things might come along the way. But, as far as I’m concerned, I want to be here and I want to be a part of this team next year.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.