Goal Rush

Freddy Adu tends to get roughed up playing soccer. Not by the older boys, and men, he plays against. No, Adu, 14, takes a beating from his teammates, who jump into a huge pile after a big win. “Those pileups hurt!” Adu says. “There’s like a bunch of 180-pounders on me.”

Get used to it, kid, they’re only going to get heavier. The youngest member of the U.S. Under-17 National Team by two years, the 5’7″, 150-lb. Adu is the best U.S. prospect to come along in years, so good he’s being called the next Pelé. In 2002 he scored both goals in a 2-1 exhibition win over the Chicago Fire, a pro team. “It’s hard to think of another U.S. player who has been this exciting this young,” says Soccer America magazine’s Mike Woitalla. “He can make the ball do whatever he wants.”

Adu developed those moves playing against older kids in Tema, Ghana, where he and brother Fredua, now 12, grew up. In 1997 his parents, owners of a department store, won a green card lottery and moved to Maryland. (They split up a year later.) Adu did so well with junior teams that a pro club in Milan offered him a reported $750,000 to play for them. He was 10.

Intent on keeping his life as normal as possible, his mother, Emelia, 33, a cashier, turned the offer down. Now living at a sports training academy near Tampa Bay, Adu hates doing homework (though he gets straight A’s), loves PlayStation and “is always laughing,” says his coach John Ellinger. “He’s just a typical 14-year-old.” Except, that is, for the 1 million dollar deal he just signed with Nike. “I haven’t done anything yet,” Adu says. “But I want to be the best in the world.” Now if only his teammates would switch to hoisting him on their shoulders.

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