Adu, Johnson to Europe could hurt MLS

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

MLS Features Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Freddy Adu is reportedly on his way out of Major League Soccer. Eddie Johnson likely isn't far behind.

Although both turned down offers from European clubs earlier this week, Adu is working on a deal with Benfica of Portugal, which could be signed Sunday. Johnson turned down Derby County in the English Premier League, but knows an offer will eventually come along to lure him away.

"I know if I keep doing what I'm doing," Johnson told the Kansas City Star, "there are going to be other opportunities for me, and some are going to come up that I can't pass up."

Going to Europe is the best thing Adu and Johnson could do for their careers. In the long run, each young player would benefit and in turn so would the United States National Team.

But what about Major League Soccer? It seems like just a matter of time before the league loses two of its marquee players.

Sure, Adu hasn't exactly been a superstar on the field. He has just one goal and two assists in 11 games for Real Salt Lake this season. But after debuting in MLS four years ago at age 14, he is arguably the most recognizable player in the league.

Freddy Adu
Freddy Adu was a standout on the U.S. team during the U-20 World Cup.
And Johnson, well, he's scored 12 goals in just 11 games for Kansas City. He is the biggest scoring threat in the league and nobody draws more attention than a player who scores goals.

Both recently helped U.S. National teams in international events, Adu in the U-20 FIFA World Cup and Johnson on the senior club in the Gold Cup and Copa America.

Adu had three goals - all in one game - and was a standout on the U.S. team during the U-20 World Cup. Johnson scored two goals as the U.S. won the Gold Cup but struggled with a young team in the Copa America.

Those performances only drew more attention to the rising stars. But as the offers roll in from overseas - both have clubs in the Premier League watching - it's important for both to make the right decision.

"I don't want to rush my decision, because it's my life," Adu told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's a very important decision and I want to take my time."

Adu, 18, "has sparks and moments of absolute brilliance," RSL coach Jason Kreis told the Desert Morning News.

That's why teams in Europe wanted to land the teen. He may not have lived up to all the hype surrounding his arrival years ago, but he's still very young and has a lot of potential.

MLS agreed to a $2 million deal to sell Adu to Benfica, but the player and the team couldn't agree on contract terms earlier this week. According to reports, Adu will likely have a deal finalized this weekend.

He was - if nothing else - very consistent in his first three years in MLS, totaling 11 goals and 17 assists in 87 games, 59 starts for D.C. United.

Not bad for a kid, huh?

And he's yet to play his best position, as an attacking midfielder or second forward, full-time in the league. He hopes to be able to play there the rest of his career, whether in MLS or overseas.

"Being in the middle of the field, that's where I'm at my best. I touch the ball more, I create more. I score more," Adu, who has played mostly on the wing, told reporters. "During my MLS career, I've scored almost all my goals either playing second forward or attacking midfielder and got pretty much all my assists from that position, too.

"It's just where I'm more effective. For some reason, ever since I've been in MLS I've never really gotten a chance to play at that position on a consistent basis."

There's no mistaking where Johnson belongs on the pitch. His 12 goals this season matches a career high. In 2004 with Dallas, he had 12 goals and three assists - exactly what he's done so far this year.

In seven years in MLS, the 23-year-old Johnson has played in 103 games with 72 starts. He has 38 goals and 10 assists in his career. If not for injuries, the forward's numbers would definitely be more impressive.

"It was close, man," Johnson said of his move to Europe. "Ninety-five percent of the way there."

There is some doubt whether Adu and Johnson are ready for Europe. But really, would there be any offers if they weren't? Adu was on English Premier League teams' watch list also, but many backed off because he might not be able to attain a work permit.

The real question is, with a number of United States stars already in Europe - DeMarcus Beasley in Scotland and Clint Dempsey in England to name a couple - is MLS ready to lose Adu and Johnson, too?

It won't kill MLS, but it can't help. Bringing in international stars David Beckham of England, Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Mexico and others is a huge step forward for the league, but it can't afford to lose too many U.S. stars.

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