WASHINGTON - Freddy Adu walked through the familiar old chain link fence, lined with green material and covered in places with unruly ivy, to practice on the same field that was part of his daily routine for three years with D.C. United.
“It brought back old memories,” Adu said. “But I’m excited. I’m happy because I get to be here with the national team.”
The field is only a hundred yards or so from RFK Stadium, site of the U.S. team’s World Cup qualifier against Cuba on Saturday. The creaky old facility also felt a bit like home for Jozy Altidore, although he only played there as a visitor with the New York Red Bulls.
“The only bad thing,” Altidore said, “is I’ve never won here before. I’m sure that’s going to change if we have a nice effort this weekend.”
Adu and Altidore are part of a young contingent that has grown up together through various levels of U.S. soccer—including the Olympic team that played in Beijing—with the goal making an impact in the 2010 World Cup. A strong showing in qualifying helps, of course, so this week’s practice and Saturday’s game under the watchful eye of coach Bob Bradley could go far in determining who’ll be on the field in South Africa.
“As a young player you think of all that stuff,” Altidore said. “But you have to keep in mind that you’ve got to work your way up from the bottom to the top. That’s what all of us try to do day by day.”
The week also offered the teenagers a break from their new and challenging lives overseas. Adu, 19, and Altidore, 18, are adjusting to new clubs and new lifestyles in Europe, where playing time isn’t easy to come by.
Adu recently joined AS Monaco of the French league on a season-long loan from Portugal’s Benfica, where he started only two matches and scored five goals in 21 appearances last season after his high-profile move from MLS.
Adu’s playing time hasn’t improved much in his new surroundings. He’s appeared as a substitute in four of eight league games and has yet to score for Monaco, which is struggling in the bottom half of the standings. He made his only start in a League Cup tournament game.
“It’s a learning experience,” Adu said. “It’s just been fun so far. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to be out there and help the team out because right now I think we hit a little bit of roadblock, and we need to get over that hump.”
Altidore is just settling into his first European gig with Villarreal of Spain. His only appearance came as a substitute in the opening game of the season, even though Villarreal paid a transfer fee reportedly close to $10 million for his services.
“At first, the language was the biggest barrier,” Altidore said. “But surprisingly to myself, little by little, I’ve gotten good at it. As soon as I’m fluent, I’m going to just love the life because I already love it now.”
The fact that Adu is more adjusted to trans-Atlantic flights showed during Tuesday’s practice. Adu was sharp; Altidore was ragged.
“I’m still not, like the other guys, used to the coming back and getting adjusted real quick,” said Altidore, who arrived in Washington on Sunday night. “I’m still kind of ‘eh.’ But it’ll come. I’ve just got to get used to it.”
To stay grounded to their stateside roots, Adu and Altidore use the wonders of modern technology to maintain their camaraderie while in Europe.
“All the young guys, we’re out there for the first time,” Altidore said. “It’s a bit of a change for us, so of course you know we all keep in touch, to see how each other is doing, whether it’s Scotland, Sweden, France—just to touch base with each other. Texting, e-mailing, IM-ing. We’re all big on the Macs and I-chat, stuff like that.”
And, Altidore said, staying close helps the togetherness whenever the youngster reconvene for national team duty.
“We have a bit of each other in every one of us,” Altidore said, “and we all work hard for each other because we know that we can do it. We’ve played in tough games together, we’ve been through a lot of tough games, a lot of hostile environments.”