He has not quite burst onto his latest scene, but Union forward-midfielder Freddy Adu remains among the team's more intriguing figures as it prepares for its first MLS Cup playoff appearance with Sunday's 5 p.m. matchup at PPL Park against the Houston Dynamo.

Amid plenty of fanfare, Adu joined the Union on Aug. 12, practiced with the team that day, and made his debut the next evening in a 1-1 draw against visiting Dallas.

Adu has appeared in 11 games for the Union, with six starts. He has two goals and one assist. Adu's goal to break a scoreless tie in the Union's 2-0 win at Seattle on Oct. 8 helped the team earn one of its most impressive wins of the season, against a team with the second-best record in the MLS.

His ability to break down defenders is among the best on the team, if not the entire MLS.

"Freddy is a difference maker, and he has to be able to do that for us in order for us to be successful in the playoffs," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said.

It's been a whirlwind year for Adu, who played well for the U.S. national team this summer in its run to the Gold Cup final. The United States lost to Mexico, 4-2, in the championship game, one in which Adu was a standout. Earlier this year, Adu competed for Caykur Rizespor of the Turkish Second Division.

Since playing 11 games for Real Salt Lake in 2007, Adu had competed for five teams before returning to MLS and joining the Union.

A player who has been in the national spotlight since signing as a 14-year-old with D.C. United in 2004, Adu remains one of the more recognizable players in MLS. Yet he apparently has been more than willing just to blend in with the Union.

"As a player, I have to be prepared for starting or coming off the bench," Adu said this week after a Union practice. "It depends on the direction the coach wants to take for the game."

That doesn't mean Adu sees himself as just a complementary player. With his ability to break down defenders, he is always looking to be a difference maker.

"One of my strengths is breaking down players, going one-on-one, and creating space for my teammates," Adu said. "I think that will be our mentality going in the playoffs."

Adu certainly has the attention of the Houston coaching staff and team.

"He's the type of player who makes things happen," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said in a phone interview. "He is a very talented player."

Adu said his brief time in Philadelphia has been enjoyable, even though he has had to adjust to yet another team, in addition to battling an ankle injury.

"It's been great here," he said. "Right now it's all about finding consistency, and that is important to me."

Is there such a thing as being an old 22? Adu is still young, but he's highly experienced.

During his rookie season, with D.C. United in 2004, Adu was part of a team that won the MLS Cup and was coached by current Union team manager Peter Nowak.

"It was amazing winning that year, and I was a little spoiled after that," he said. "It was probably the best moment in my career so far."

He is hoping to duplicate it with the Union.

"Just to be a champion, the way you feel after you hold that trophy, knowing how hard you worked and reaching that goal," he said. "There is no feeling like it, and it drives you even more."

Note. Nowak said on Wednesday that the status of forward Veljko Paunovic (hamstring) remained uncertain for Sunday. According to Nowak, Paunovic began training on Monday.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter.