BEIJING – Ever since he signed an endorsement contract at 13 years old and was touted as the "American Pele," Freddy Adu was burdened with totally unrealistic expectations.
Still just 19, Adu – who will play for French league giant Monaco on loan from Portugal's Benfica this season – has had his solid career progress interpreted by many as a failure due to the ludicrous hype that demanded international superstardom as a teenager.
At the Olympic men's soccer tournament, though, Adu enters unchartered waters.
No longer are the expectations for America's soccer prodigy above and beyond the realm of reality. That's because Adu is far from being the most high-profile player in the event. He is arguably not even the biggest story on his own team.
Jozy Altidore has emerged as a potential star with his move from Major League Soccer to Spanish side Villarreal, and 36-year-old Brian McBride ended his retirement from the national team to play in his first Olympics.
The expectations for Adu could even be unrealistically low after he enjoyed an impressive 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada, where he led the United States to the quarterfinals. So Adu has reason to be confident about holding his own against the opposition in China.
It's just that he has to fight being dismissed and written off along with his Olympic teammates ahead of the U.S.'s opener against Japan in Tianjin on Thursday.
"I know a lot of people aren't giving us much of a chance to get out of the group (stage), and we know that," Adu said. "But people have said that about American teams in the past and we've been able to prove people wrong.
"We are just going in with the mentality that we're a good side who is going to be working hard and giving it our all when we hit the field. We're focusing on what we need to do to get results.
"I think we have the talent, we have the group of players who can get this done. I believe in this team and I think we can surprise a lot of people in this tournament."
Those who haven't seen Adu play since he left MLS for Benfica could be in for a surprise as well.
While unable to hold down a permanent starting spot there, he showed enough in a regular substitute's role to attract the attention of Monaco. According to reports from Portugal, his work ethic has been good and Adu has made definite technical improvements to his game.
"Playing overseas takes a lot of character," Adu said. "You are put into different situations and you have to learn how to adapt to them.
"It is an experience that challenges you mentally and makes you stronger as a person. It will help me in my career, for the future and hopefully in the Olympics as well."