When Major League Soccer snared 14-year-old U.S. prodigy Freddy Adu this week, the shock waves reached Europe's most storied teams. The most talked-about youth player in the world (SI, Aug. 25), Adu spurned more lucrative offers to play on the youth teams of powerhouses such as Chelsea and Manchester United to ink a four-year deal (plus two option years) with MLS. Sources said Adu—who will play for D.C. United next spring—instantly becomes the league's highest-paid player.
Why stay Stateside? Three reasons. Adu, a Ghanaian-born striker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and got U.S. citizenship this year, can I) live at home with his family in Potomac, Md.; 2) play pro as a minor in the U.S., a practice forbidden in Europe to non- E.U. citizens; and 3) have a more nurturing environment than he would in the hothouse of European soccer. "If Freddy had gone to a superclub, he wouldn't be as important to them as he is to us," said MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis. "For us Freddy is a unique and precious jewel." If Adu lives up to his staggering potential—at 13 he signed a $1 million deal with Nike, and many predict he'll play on the World Cup team at 17—he could become America's first male soccer icon. "He can make a great contribution to the sport," says MLS commissioner Don Garber. "It's not just about performing on the field. It's about being a founding father of the sport for a generation."