Americans rising with Adu

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

They are edging ever closer to a spot among the world's soccer elite.

But tonight comes another one of those measuring sticks for the U.S. at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, with one of the sport's gold standards lining up on the opposite side of the pitch.

"Anytime you play Brazil, it's a big game," admitted U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley about tonight's match, which is bringing a full house (26,559) to Frank Clair Stadium for the final doubleheader night of the group stage at this venue.

This one might be bigger than most. The U.S. comes into the game in top spot in the group with four points. Brazil, which was shocked 1-0 by Poland in its U-20 opener, is one point behind after edging past South Korea 3-2 on Wednesday.

But don't even try to suggest to the Americans that they're the favourites in this one.

"We're the underdogs, but we want to prove we can play with these guys," Thomas Rongen, the U.S. side's Dutch coach, said yesterday.

"Over 90 minutes, we can show the Ottawa fans and fans throughout the world that we are a formidable team that has made great strides in the last decade on the youth level."

The Americans' best finish in this tournament was fourth in 1989 in Saudi Arabia. Two years ago in the Netherlands, they were sent home by Italy in the Round of 16.

But this group is touted as the best the U.S. has ever sent to the U-20 World Cup. While Brazil has Alexandre Pato and a supremely talented supporting cast, the Americans might have the best-known player in the tournament: 18-year-old midfielder Freddy Adu, whose hat trick powered their 6-1 rout of Poland on Wednesday.

Adu has felt the intense media glare since he became the youngest U.S. player to sign a pro contract at 13. Nike inked him to a large endorsement deal. Pepsi featured Adu in a commercial with Pele, one of soccer's greatest legends.

"It was too much, too soon, quite frankly," said Rongen. "He became the icon at 13 ... As a young kid, he was asked to carry the torch and put the world of (U.S.) soccer on his shoulders. There were some very unrealistic expecations for him.

"But he's grown tremendously as a player over the last 3-4 years."

Tonight, though, is the real test for Adu and the rest of the U.S. side. They relish the opportunity to see how they measure up.

"Regardless of how they've done in this tournament so far, it's Brazil," said Bradley, 19, the son of U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley. "It's our big game."

CORNER KICKS

A clarification about a note from yesterday. The FIFA-approved artificial playing surface installed at Frank Clair Stadium is BladeMaster, a product made by Sportexe, and not FieldTurf, the synthetic playing field being used at tournament venues in Toronto and Montreal ... There's a 40% chance of rain tonight, but leave the umbrellas at home. Organizers aren't allowing them into the stadium for safety reasons.


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