Ranking the top three Freddy Adu club arrivals (that didn’t happen in Washington, D.C.)

Rejoice, call up the rest of the family and light off some leftover Fourth of July fireworks, because Freddy Adu, American soccer’s wayward son, is back home!

Last night the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League announced that the 26-year-old (still only 26?) had joined the club. This morning, Adu was already training with the Rowdies, speaking to media, and ignoring the horrible shit you were saying about him on Twitter, you insensitive jerk.

The deal with the Rowdies (a fun word to say) will see Adu reunited with head coach Thomas Rongen. To date — other than that time he sold some nasty soda with Pelé — the Freddy Adu hype train has never been fuller than after he lead the Rongen-coached United States to the 2007 U-20 World Cup quarterfinals. An opportunity to recreate that magic appears to be Adu’s main reason for wanting to join the NASL club. #AduIt, y’all.

“Freddy and I have always respected each other. He’s a very unique player, very gifted. He’s a difference-maker. He’s got superb technical ability and field awareness. He’s a guy that I’ve always enjoyed being around on and off the field. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor and is a good teammate. He can make any team better.”

“I’m someone he relates to and someone he feels comfortable with. I like daring, creative players and Freddy has those qualities. His signing has immense upside for a club that is already making its mark in the NASL.”

By the usual standards of Freddy Adu arrivals, his grand unveiling with Tampa Bay has been relatively understated. No bold proclamations have been made, and the fate of soccer as America’s sport of the future no longer seems to be resting on his shoulders.

Still, we have 11 other Adu new club arrivals to compare this one to, and when faced with that much material, there’s one one reasonable thing to do: rank ’em.

These are the top three Freddy Adu club arrivals that didn’t happen in Washington D.C., as graded on a scale of fanfare, out-sized levels hopefulness, and eventually depressing outcome.

3. Real Salt Lake (2007)

After “failing” to launch American soccer into the mainstream and solve the national debt crisis, Adu moved on from his first pro club, D.C. United, to Real Salt Lake. His arrival in Utah was particularly special because the team’s shirt sponsor, XanGo, seemed to really believe having Adu on the team would “triple” the value of its advertising dollars and help it sell more of its fancy line of exotic fruit juices and natural healthcare products. That’s real optimism.

Fun fact: The December 2006 trade that sent Adu to RSL was also the one that landed them a fairly serviceable goalkeeper named Nick Rimando, in exchange for Jay Nolly (who?) and future considerations. The following summer, after 11 appearances, Adu was sold to Benfica for $2 million, probably before XanGo got the chance to test-market any new flavors.

2. AS Monaco (2008)

In July 2008, Adu joined Monaco on loan from Benfica, with an $8 million buy option. The hope was that he would be the showcase piece of an American outreach project spearheaded by then-team president Jérôme de Bontin, who was running the club for his college teammate and homeboy, Prince Albert II. Yeah, really.

“He is the leading figure of a new generation of U.S. players. He is going to be an ambassador for the United States. I can picture Freddy Adu, for instance, as the one player who can do for U.S. soccer what Greg LeMond did for U.S. cycling when he won his first Tour de France. Let’s be frank, U.S. soccer is unknown in France and in some ways looked down upon. Freddy and AS Monaco can change that.”

Let that sink in, and try not to cry a little. Freddy Adu, America’s $8 million “ambassador for the United States.” Thanks to lofty ideas from de Bontin, this loan to the French Riviera felt more pressure-packed for Adu than his original move to Benfica.

By March 2009, de Bontin had stepped down from Monaco, and, with only nine appearances and no goals, Adu failed to convince new leadership he was worth an $8 million investment. He returned to Benfica, and would be loaned out to three more clubs over the next three years before his contract ended.

1. Aris (2010)

Following a useless few months at Belenenses in Portugal, another loan brought about Adu’s most glamorous welcome and debut. It also led to his saddest ending. In January 2010, Adu moved to Aris and was supposed to remain there for the final 18 months of his Benfica deal.

A swarm of media not seen since he signed with MLS as a 14 year-old met Adu at the airport. Fans greeted him, chanting his name like he was a Ballon d’Or winner. The love was real.

In the States, fans had hope that this Greek excursion would reignite the European careers of Adu and the other “it’s complicated” American abroad of the moment, Eddie Johnson, who joined the club a month earlier on loan from Fulham.

In short time, the duo was combining for beautiful goals, sending Aris fans into frenzies and sending American fans to check boxscores and YouTube highlights. The joy would be temporary, though, as by the end of the season, Adu was on the bench and threatened with complete exclusion from the team if he didn’t agree to take a pay cut.

Now, Adu is back in America, playing in the second division — a marquee signing for a league with ambitions of overtaking MLS in the hearts and minds of domestic soccer fans. More than any of the other near-dozen club introductions Adu has made, joining the Tampa Bay Rowdies feels more like an effort for him to get his shit together and re-start in a comfortable space, rather than an exercise in some broader ambitions.

Good luck, Freddy.

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