When the 2004 MLS Superdraft began on January 16th, D.C. United had the first pick. With it, they did something that no team in the history of American sports had ever done: they drafted a 14-year-old. Freddy Adu, born in Ghana but who immigrated to the United States to settle in Maryland when he was 8 years old, was heralded as the next Pelé, and a once-in-a-generation American soccer player. He was destroying kids several years older than him in youth play, and he caught the eye of several professional coaches.
On November 18, 2003, MLS signed Freddy Adu to a professional contract and assigned him to D.C. United so as to play close to his home of Rockville, Maryland. The then-Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas), who owned the first pick in the 2004 MLS Superdraft, agreed to a trade involving a player allocation, clearing the way for D.C. United and Freddy Adu to make history.
On January 16th, it was made official as D.C. United selected Freddy Adu in the draft. At 14 years of age, it was thought at the time that he was the youngest athlete to ever play professional sports in America since Fred Chapman played a single game of baseball at age 14 back in 1887. However, after later research, it was determined that Chapman was actually 26 when he made his professional debut, and history belonged solely to Adu. The youngest player to ever play professional sports was a 14-year-old Ghanian-born American from Rockville, Maryland, and soccer was his game.
The young Adu became the youngest player to ever appear in a MLS match when he made his professional debut on April 3, 2004 against the San Jose Earthquakes. He then followed up that history 14 days later by becoming the youngest player to score a goal in MLS by scoring against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars on April 17th. He was well on his way, helping D.C. United to its 4th MLS Cup that season.
Since then, Adu has become a journeyman, never living up to the hype that was bestowed on him when he signed that first contract. In his 14-year career to this point, he has played for 14 teams in 8 countries. He made 17 appearances for the USMNT, scoring 2 goals. His first cap, on January 22, 2006, made him the youngest player to ever appear for the national team. Despite the accolades and the early start to his career, his journey became a cautionary tale of what happens when you put too much hype on a player that they can never approach. Still, Freddy Adu will forever go down in history as the youngest player to play professional sports in the United States, and he did it playing the world’s game.