Photo by ISIphotos.com
By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — Nineteen points back with only seven games remaining, the playoffs are out of reach for the Philadelphia Union. But that doesn't mean they have nothing left to play for in 2012.
With what is likely to be an active offseason just around the corner, every player on the Union is feeling the pressure to solidify a spot on next year's edition of the franchise.
That's a pressure felt not only by some of the less experienced players on the team. It's also being felt by the seasoned veterans, and that includes the team's only designated player, Freddy Adu.
"It doesn't matter who you are," Adu said after the club's 1-0 home loss to D.C. United on Thursday. "You've got to come out and fight for your spot next year. I've got to earn my spot just like everybody else. That's the way I look at it personally and that's how I'm going to look at it until the end of the season."
Since joining the Union in August 2011, Adu's time with Philadelphia has had its share of ups and downs. In just over a season with the club, Adu has registered five goals and two assists. Many would argue, though, that his assist total would be much higher if the Union could only find a quality striker to finish the chances he creates.
After easing into the club throughout 2011, Adu was expected to have a much more expanded role in this year's Union. For the first few months of the season, he had that role, starting the majority of the team's games through August.
In the last few weeks, though, Adu has been often relegated to a role on the bench, and has only been given a few minutes at the end of games to make an impact. But the 23-year-old midfielder rejects the notion that his importance on the team is decreasing.
"I don't think I would say that my playing time has diminished," Adu said. "The coaching staff had made it clear at the beginning of the week that they were going to give other people a chance. [Coach John Hackworth] has faith in all of the players, and he feels that they can get the job done."
The fact remains, however, that Adu was given a bench role in highly important matches in late August against Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew, when Philadelphia were still very much in the playoff race.
While Adu has struggled at times, he still has shown flashes of the player that many thought he could be when he was a teenage phenom. In an early May contest against the New York Red Bulls, Adu played what may have been the best match of his Union career, but it was cut short by a 43rd-minute red card. While fans have yearned for another performance of that quality by Adu, it has yet to manifest itself.
With only seven games remaining, Adu still has time to return to the form that Union fans know he can exhibit. It's something Adu hopes he can do, because he wants to remain in Philadelphia in the long run.
"I love this team. I love this organization," said Adu. "I want to be a part of this team going into the future. And, you know, you've got to earn your place."
Adu will have his next chance to solidify his long-term role with the Union on Sunday, when Philadelphia host the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.
What do you think of Adu's time with the Union so far? Will he eventually live up to his role as a designated player, or has he underwhelmed you?
Share your thoughts below.