You would've been hard-pressed to find a more excited person at Freddy Adu's introductory press conference Tuesday than Real Salt Lake forward Jeff Cunningham.
"When I heard he was coming, I smiled because that's at least 10 more goals. He's the real deal," said Cunningham, who scored a league-high 16 goals in 2006 and was a finalist for MLS MVP. "It's like a wide receiver having a great quarterback."
And so it begins.
The Jazz flourished under the familiar phrase Stockton-to-Malone for more than a decade, and they're doing the same now with Williams-to-Boozer. With Adu joining RSL, sports fans might soon be shopping for cars at Adu-to-Cunningham Toyota.
"I just can't wait to be in the middle of the field and passing balls up to (Jason) Kreis and Cunningham," said Adu at a press conference at the Grand America Hotel. "Hopefully, Cunningham scores 30 goals with me feeding him the ball."
Cunningham is just one of thousands of Utahns ecstatic that RSL completed a trade Monday with D.C. United to acquire Adu the 17-year-old phenom who joined Major League Soccer at age 14.
Adu is thrilled because he's being reunited with RSL coach John Ellinger, his coach with the U.S. youth national team for 3 1/2 years in Bradenton, Fla.
"While I was down there, I played the best soccer of my life, and hopefully that will be the case here," said Adu.
Ellinger is excited because he's added the premier up-and-coming star in the United States, the type of quality attacking midfielder that will enable him to use a 3-5-2 formation in 2007.
Sure Adu will likely end up playing soccer in Europe someday, perhaps as early as 2008, but Ellinger isn't fretting that scenario.
"You never know what's going to happen, but right now he's here and that's all that matters," he said.
Adu's teammates also are happy, if for no other reason than he might be the missing piece to securing a playoff berth in 2007.
"Freddy has shown in the past two years moments of brilliance, and we're going to ask more of him, we're going to ask for 90 minutes of brilliance week in and week out," said Kreis.
Then there's Real Salt Lake's marketing and ticket sales staff. It's hard to imagine them not benefitting from acquiring arguably the most famous soccer player in the country.
Lastly, there's RSL's loyal fans. Freddy mania has gripped MLS since he joined the league in 2004, and it won't be long until you see kids wearing Xango No. 11 Freddy Adu jerseys around town. That's right, Adu has already convinced new teammate Chris Brown to give up his No. 11 jersey, "for the price of a (PlayStation 3) of course," said Adu.
Adu's happiness is what might ultimately lead to happiness for all.
Adu never got along well with D.C. coach Peter Nowak, known as a stubborn, tactical coach who never coddles players. That, along with the presence of MVP midfielder Christian Gomez, prevented Adu from playing his more natural attacking midfielder position. Instead, D.C. utilized him as an outside midfielder, which led to mixed results in his three years. Adu doesn't envision that being a problem with Real Salt Lake.
"I just want to say I can't be happier to be here," he said. "It's something I wanted. This sort of has the same feeling when I first came in the league. I feel reborn. I'm excited for a new chapter in my life.
"Coming here, I knew this was the best environment for me to be in to succeed as a player, and to get a chance to play my natural position," said Adu.
RSL acquired Adu along with D.C. United back-up keeper Nick Rimando by trading D.C. a major allocation, goalkeeper Jay Nolly and future considerations, which include a portion of replacement allocation money if Adu is transferred overseas.
An allocation is money that MLS teams can use to sign new players. While some teams covet allocations, in its first two years in MLS, Real has proven that it covets proven talent more.
"We'd rather get the proven player and let the other teams spend money and take chances on players who may or may not be successful in this league," said Real general manager Steve Pastorino.
For fans worried about Adu's seemingly inevitable departure overseas, Pastorino offered words of encouragement.
"We wouldn't have ventured into this transaction without the belief that Freddy would be part of this organization for a little while to come," said Pastorino.Adu is under contract through 2007, with an option on his contract through 2009. Adu turns 18 in June, at which time he could be transferred to a European club. Now that he's playing for a coach he likes, Adu might not be so anxious to leave.
ENDLINES: Real Salt Lake is scheduled to announce the signing of forward Luis Tejada today. Tejada is a target forward and a member of the Panama National Team.
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