(CNN) -- There is no title in football that hangs heavier on the shoulders of a young player than that of teenage prodigy.
A spell at Benfica could help Adu adjust to the pressures of European football.
Those who can carry it -- Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho -- go on to become the greatest players in the game. Those who can't fade into obscurity -- Nii Lamptey anyone?
The jury is still out on whether Freddy Adu -- like Lamptey Ghanaian-born -- will fall into the first category or the second, but the footballing world should soon be a little closer to finding out after the 18-year-old's move this week from the shallow waters of Real Salt Lake and the MLS to Benfica of Portugal.
Adu, who moved to the U.S. as a child and has American citizenship, already has three seasons under his belt in the MLS, having made his professional debut at 14. As an MLS player his progress has been steady if unspectacular for a player inevitably compared to the incomparable Pele.
Indeed, in the eyes of some -- unfairly -- Adu has already failed to live up to the expectations placed on him. In 2003 an MLS coach told Sports Illustrated, shortly before Adu signed a $1 million contract with Nike, that Adu would start for the U.S. at the 2006 World Cup. To date he has just a solitary international cap to his name.
"Freddy, when we signed him, was one of most talented young players in the world. I think, today, he still is one of most young talented players in the world," says MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis.
"What we've struggled with is the expectations, not that we've placed on him, but that the media has placed on him."
For a player feted as a future major world star though, Benfica is perhaps not the destination those who had mapped out his career along the lines of the Hollywood soccer trilogy "Goal" would have chosen.
The Lisbon club may be one of European football's greatest names, but it is a long time -- just one Portuguese title in 13 years -- since they were one of the Europe's great teams and Adu had previously been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United or Chelsea
Yet by favoring Benfica over bigger clubs, Adu's advisors have actually made a smart move. Moving to Portugal will give the teenager a chance to acclimatise to the higher standards and tougher expectations of European football away from the high-pressure atmosphere of one of the continent's true giants.
Adu is also following a well-worn path for non-European youngsters. Ronaldinho first signed for Paris Saint Germain when he first left Brazil, while Ronaldo originally settled at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. Both subsequently moved onto greatness at Barcelona; U.S. soccer fans will be willing Adu to make a similar leap upwards from Benfica sooner rather than later. E-mail to a friend
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