ENSCHEDE, Netherlands (AP) – He has a soft spot for video games and teenage banter. Make no mistake, though: Freddy Adu understands his responsibilities.

Barely 16, he will be counted on for leadership Saturday when the United States opens against favored Argentina at the World Youth Championship.

Adu knows he will have to show the experience of someone who has played in two major world youth tournaments, and it will matter little that he is the youngest player in the 24-nation event for under-20 teams.

The D.C. United striker will have to reaffirm the boundless promise that made him the most talked-about soccer prodigy of the past two years. On Saturday, he will have to prove it against his most likely challenger for star of the tournament – FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

Adu was born in Ghana and went to the United States when he was 8 after his mother won a green card in a lottery. He goes about handling pressure his own way.

“By being a kid when I am not actually playing, that is the way to deal with it,” Adu told The Associated Press on Friday. “Forget about everything and be a normal kid. If you think about this all the time you just put pressure on yourself.”

At practice, Adu shows the exuberance that comes with youth – doing crazy ball tricks and running wild during a scrimmage.

Yet when all his teammates left the field after a 1-hour session, Adu was still practicing free kicks, zipping his left foot through the ball, trying to bend it like David Beckham. It’s the kind of free kick that could decide a game, and it was suddenly obvious he was no longer playing a kid’s game.

“You have to come in with the professional attitude,” Adu said. “This is my job. This is what I do.”

On Saturday, he in all likelihood will be allowed to rove all over the field, luring Argentine defenders with him.

“With that comes great responsibility, you also have to put yourself in the right position defensively and do what is asked of you,” said Adu, enjoying the relative lack of attention after the media hype in Major League Soccer.

“Oooh, it is great, it is great to be away from there,” he said, with only a half dozen fans standing around the Rigtersbleek Sports pavilion.

Transfer rumors have chased Adu to the Netherlands. The latest was that he would join Champions League semifinalist PSV Eindhoven, the team that nurtured such stars as Romanio and Ronaldo. Adu laughed it off, a healthy attitude after a lackluster spell in MLS.

“It wasn’t so much that I was in a funk, but in the MLS there is everything else going on,” he said. “Everything with the team so that it is just great to be away for a little bit and to be around guys who are actually closer to my age group.”

But if the United States qualifies for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and Adu makes the team, he may pine for those quiet days in the Dutch suburbs.

“It might be the last time in a long time,” he said. “So I might as well enjoy it, right?”


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