Fred Adu is the reality.
After a decade of peaks and valleys, Adu is a nice MLS player who still can have a productive career, possibly make a few more All-Star teams. That would be a fine career, better than the vast majority of American players who ever made it to the professional level.
Not, however, if you are Freddy Adu.
By 23, Freddy Adu was supposed to be playing on the level of a Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo or Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.
By 23, Freddy Adu was surely going to be the best American player ever to lace up a pair of soccer cleats.
The failure to reach those lofty, and probably unfair, expectations is the burden of being Freddy Adu.
We'll never know what might have been had Adu been treated more like a normal prospect, given the time to develop naturally without the pressure of crushing expectations.
Fair or not, the over-the-top hype always will be associated with the name. Everything Freddy Adu did, is doing and will do will be judged in comparison to those expectations.
In Sunday's 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo, Adu had a great game, scoring twice before leaving with an injury.
But those were only his fourth and fifth goals in 29 MLS games for the Union. He has one assist. Before Sunday, Adu had not recorded a point in nearly 2 months covering eight games.
That's not what any Union fan bargained for when the franchise announced it had signed Adu on Aug. 12, 2011.
Again, even then, the stature of the name - Freddy Adu - overwhelmed the reality of the situation.
Adu was signed on a free transfer from Benefica of the Portuguese First Division. Benefica didn't ask for a transfer fee because after 4 years and four loans it decided it didn't want to wait any longer for Adu to blossom.
Remember that Adu was in limbo without a club when the Union signed him. His last experience in Europe was with Caykur Rizespor - a second-division team in Turkey.
For all of the dreams about what a revitalized Adu would do for the Union, the reality was the player needed the team far more than the team needed the player.
Adu came to Philadelphia as a star in name only. He was actually a guy trying to salvage a career that had gone way off track.
But Adu was still buying into the dream.
Joining the Union meant he was just a few steps away from returning to a "Champions League" club in Europe and remerging as a vital member in the USA National Team.
Things haven't exactly worked out that way.
Despite being the franchise's highest-paid player, Adu has not been close to its best.
The Union underwent a major upheaval with the firing of original team manager Peter Nowak - the guy who signed Adu.
With the team all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, manager John Hackworth is using the final games to evaluate and transition the team into 2013.
Age-wise, Adu is young, but I don't necessarily see him as a building-block young player for the Union, like twins Michael and Gabriel Farfan (24), Jack McInerney (20), Zach MacMath (21), Amobi Okogo (21) or Sheanon Williams (22). Adu is another guy in the mix - one who can play himself out of a job or into being a valuable commodity.
That's a lifetime away from being the 13-year-old courted by big clubs in Europe.
Of course, Freddy Adu cannot get away from who he is. His destiny was overinflated from the start. Adu was on an impossible journey before he took his first step. However, that doesn't mean his future has to be completely defined by his past.
"I've watched Freddy for a long time and I certainly think he has a lot more he can add to his game and his career overall," Hackworth said. "The expectations I think are unfair for him.
"But this is now a season where he has had consistent playing time. He's had some very good performances.
"My goal is that with this being the first time in his 10-year career he has had [consistent playing time] that he continues to build on that not only through the rest of this season but into 2013."
It's time for Adu to make his own statement about what was, what is and what still can be.
The harsh truth is that legacy of Freddy Adu is one of failed expectations.
Fred Adu, however, is still a young man talented enough to put together a nice pro career
Shorten the name - embrace Fred Adu.
Contact John Smallwood at email@example.com.