Back in MLS, Adu signs with Philadelphia

Freddy Adu left Major League Soccer midway through the 2007 season.

Now, he's back ... and nearly in first place.

The highly publicized 22-year-old midfielder, who had been linked to Chivas USA in his long-awaited return to the league, reversed field and decided to sign with the Philadelphia Union on Friday. The Union plucked Adu on a free transfer from Sports Lisboa e Benfica of the Portuguese First Division.

His decision signifies an immediate reunion with Adu and Union manager Peter Nowak. Adu signed his professional contract with D.C. United at the age of 14 and spent three seasons with Nowak from 2004-06, including winning the MLS Cup in 2004.

The Union (8-5-9) play host to FC Dallas (12-6-6) on Saturday night, and enter the match just one point behind the Columbus Crew (9-7-7) for first place in the Eastern Conference.

"I think I'm a better player," Adu said, "than I was when I left MLS four years ago."

Though that doesn't mean he will start on Saturday. Nowak certainly realizes his talent level, without question. But there's chemistry to develop, and a learning curve, as well.

"Of course, we're looking to play Freddy," Nowak said. "I know he's ready to go. We have another 20 guys in the locker room ready to play as well."

The Union are already one of the more popular franchises in the league in terms of attendance. And the "Sons of Ben," a fan club named after Benjamin Franklin, is among the strongest in the league. At the All-Star break this year, Philadelphia was averaging 18,177 fans per home game.

This should only help the cause.

"I'm ready to learn, listen and help the team in every way possible," said Adu, who has scored 12 MLS goals. "Coming to Philly, it's just great. I'm excited."

He's not alone. In fact, over the last nine months, several marquee names have landed with Philadelphia professional teams. The run bagan in December, when Cliff Lee, the prize of Major League Baseball's free-agent season, decided to rejoin the Phillies. It continued in July, when the Flyers snagged the highest-scoring player in the NHL's free-agent market: Jaromir Jagr.

And then the Eagles jumped in the mix and made a huge splash after the NFL lockout ended. They signed Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Vince Young, Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown, among others.

The Phillies also last month made a trade for Hunter Pence. But for one day at least, the Union stole the show in this sports-crazed town.

And a big game vs. Dallas just became a little bigger.

"I hope I get a chance to play," Adu said. "This is a big game. I've got to be ready."

Adu is used to the bright lights, and seems equipped to handle being a star. He became the youngest player to debut for Team USA at 16 years, 234 days. He played in a friendly against Canada on Jan. 22, 2006.

He also played in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting in a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the championship match. He assisted on both goals.