On the cusp of the U.S. National team’s international success and the MLS landing soccer’s next Pele a few months after the league’s top goalkeeper, Tim Howard, became a star on the biggest sports team on the planet, the MLS is poised to make its biggest push yet at achieving success in the states. That push begins in the heart of Bulls country.
The match pitting the Kansas City Wizards against D.C. United, 7 p.m. tonight at a sold-out USF Soccer Stadium, is a milestone that means much more than just the renewal of professional soccer in Tampa (even if just for one night).
The real intrinsic value this game has is worth a lot more than five quid those in attendance will pay at the gate, though. In fact, it just may be priceless. When those MLS squads hit the pitch, it just may be the start of the rise of U.S. soccer as we know it. D.C. United’s 14-year old Freddy Adu, the most highly touted American (by way of Ghana) soccer prodigy in history, will be in attendance for one of his first professional matches ever. And while he’s not assured of playing time, his presence on the sideline just may become something for all in attendance to tell their children about if this kid becomes the superstar he’s projected to be. And just think, the boy can’t even drive himself to the match. But is the lad ready?
“I just felt like I’m ready to go pro,” Adu said. “It was kind of funny, because my family trusted me to make this decision and supported me 100 percent. And I felt like, for my development, that this was the right move. When you get used to that (high) level of play, you want to jump to that next level. In my case the move was going pro. I’m ready for it, so, just bring it on.”
At this stage Freddy is more than happy to set U.S. soccer ablaze one spark at a time.
“I’m not here to please anybody,” Adu said. “I’m here to challenge myself, and I’ve set a goal to become one of the best players to ever play the sport. If I keep doing what I do on the field, all this stuff will just take care of itself.”
USF’s men’s soccer coach, George Kiefer pulled some strings to bring the most important professional soccer game to the Bay Area since the contraction of the former Tampa Bay Mutiny MLS franchise. The game, which has officially sold out even after adding an extra 300 field seats onto the USF soccer stadium’s regular 4,000 seats, will serve as a fundraiser to benefit the USF men’s soccer program. And at $5 a ticket, this is as good a value for your sports buck as you can find.
“We really made an attempt to keep ticket prices down,” Kiefer said. “Seeing a $5 MLS game with a sell out crowd will make for a great environment that I think everyone will enjoy.”
Even if fabulous Freddy doesn’t dig his spikes into USF’s pitch, the crowd will be treated to a game including some U.S. soccer legends. Earnie Stewart, the biggest name of the bunch (not including those not of age), is the all-time leader in both appearances and minutes played for the U.S. men’s national soccer team. If Adu ever needs a little lesson in the rise of U.S. soccer, this would be the man to look to.
“It’s always fun to play in front of a good crowd,” Stewart said. “In the States (soccer) is growing amongst the youth. We have come a long way, and (U.S.) soccer has a great future.”
Tonight’s MLS showcase is much more than just a chance to pass the collection plate in the name of USF soccer. This game will be a chance for the USF and Tampa soccer community to benefit from the progress of U.S. soccer on display before them. And it just might be a chance for one super-soccer adolescent to give those on-hand one of those nights they will remember for the rest of their lives.