Freddy Adu did not disappoint in his first trip to Salt Lake City. He scored a goal and had an assist as D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake 3-1 both to the delight and horror of the fans.

Now 16 years old — he began his Major League Soccer career as the youngest player in the league's history as a 14-year-old last season — Adu has shown flashes of the brilliance that has given him the title of "Next" in the nation's soccer scene.

In the 50th minute, Adu showed the 14,306 fans in attendance the creativity and ball skills that gave him that title. He collected the ball nearly 40 yards from the net, and as a Real defender approached, he flicked the ball over his head and quickly spun leaving Brian Dunseth in his wake. Racing toward the net, Adu simply ran past Nelson Akwari and beat keeper D.J. Countess to the back post with his left foot.

With one play, taking less than 10 seconds, Adu showed his ball control, speed, creativity and ability to finish.

Real coach John Ellinger is very familiar with Adu's play after have coached him on the U-17 national team. He said the goal was typical of what he has come to expect of the forward.

"Freddy is very good at getting long, dribbling runs," Ellinger said. "Especially, when it is on his left foot."

The way Adu has played against RSL, he may be circling those dates against the team when the schedule comes out next year. In the two games this season, he tallied three points, scoring in both games. He may even make an extra mark next to the date in Salt Lake.

"I thought the atmosphere here was great," he said. "Every city should have that type of soccer atmosphere. It felt almost European. It was fun."

But if he continues to play like he did against Real, he may be putting up those kinds of numbers against many teams. Adu credits one reason for impressive performance lately is simply maturing.

"The biggest difference is that I have been able to put on more muscle-weight," Adu added. "I am getting bigger and stronger and I don't get knocked off the ball as easily. It makes it so I can compete physically. With Adu's maturation as a player, his future is bright, but for now, he is just concentrating on the present.

"I just want to keep getting better, and I want to help bring more titles to D.C.," he said. "I have always said that I would love to play in England, but right now I just want to do whatever I can to help my team."

Adu's impact on road attendance may be dwindling. The novelty of seeing the barely teenage phenom is becoming commonplace. For Real fans, it may have been the one and only time to see the young sensation. That is not to say that Adu will not be back to visit next year with D.C. United, but at the rate he is progressing, fans will be coming to see a great player — period, and not just a youngster playing pro soccer.


E-mail: mblack@desnews.com