Maurice Edu Sees Big Opportunity in MLS Return
The 27-year-old midfielder struggled through injury and inactivity in 2013, but a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Union should give the California native a chance to jumpstart his career.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedBY MOST ACCOUNTS 2013 was a lost year for Maurice Edu. The high-energy midfielder struggled to find playing time with Stoke City last season, so in January 2013 he was sent out on loan to Bursaspor of the Turkish Super Lig. Upon his return to Stoke five months later, Edu required surgery to repair a sports hernia—a procedure that forced him to miss the 2013 Gold Cup and the remaining U.S. World Cup qualifiers. And when the 2013-14 Premier League started up, the recovering Edu was on the outside looking in at Stoke City. He did not make a single appearance with the club from August to December. But 2014 should bring new opportunities for the Fontana, Calif., native, who on January 27 joined the Philadelphia Union on a one-year loan. Now in Florida for preseason training with his new club, Edu is happy to to be with a team that needs him. “I’ve been keeping tabs on what’s been going on in MLS while I was over there,” Edu told American Soccer Now. “I know [Philadelphia] just narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year. After having a good chat with everyone involved with the club, it was very obvious how ambitious the club is and how much they believe in the players they have here. When I saw how passionate they were, I was excited to be part of it." "It’s been a while since I’ve played consistently," the 27-year-old Edu added. "That was my main end in coming back, because I wanted to get back playing, get back to enjoying things.” From 2008-2012 Edu was an anchor in the midfield for Glasgow Rangers, but when the club went bankrupt Edu left for Stoke City—a decision that led to a lot time on the bench. That shouldn't be the case in Philadelphia. With the Union Edu is expected to quickly establish himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. Going from Stoke’s reserve squad to being a leader on the Union will require a major transition, but Edu arrived in camp in very good shape and says the preseason should give him plenty of time to regain his match fitness. "I think he will be an integral player on our team going forward,” Union coach John Hackworth said. He is "the kind of player that brings international experience. He knows MLS well. We see him playing as a center midfielder, a box-to-box guy. We think he's a guy who can do all the work between the boxes, but can also put the ball in the back of the net." "That's the kind of role we see him playing this year and many years beyond, hopefully.” During his first stint in Major League Soccer, Edu carried the weight of high expectations when he was the first overall pick in the 2007 SuperDraft. During his rookie season with Toronto FC, the first-team All-American from the University of Maryland earned his first call-up to the United States national team—even though his club failed to make the playoffs. Edu wants to make sure that doesn't happen in Philadelphia. “When I was in Toronto, my first time here, we fell short in terms making the playoffs and some of the other goals we set," Edu said. "Coming back now, the initial goal is to make the playoffs. From there anything is possible. This league is tricky. Anything is possible from there. It’s a difficult league and we have to start of the season on a positive note.” Edu's return to North America is part of a growing trend among top U.S. internationals. It started with Clint Dempsey's move to Seattle last August and continued with Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), and the most significant addition of them all— Michael Bradley, the 26-year-old Roma midfielder who left a Champions League-bound side to join Edu's old club, Toronto FC. Watching MLS evolve from overseas, Edu has noticed that the league is on the upswing. For one thing, foreign players like Jermaine Defoe and Gaston Fernandez have joined MLS at a younger age than previous foreign stars. “They can now attract quality players in their prime'" Edu said. "It’s a step in the right direction for the league. These guys come to their teams with a lot of respect and credibility. They can bring leadership. It helps elevate the status of the league and the global perception of it. People around the world see guys coming in their prime, especially in a World Cup year, and wanting to be part of this league.” “I think perception is always going to be skewed a little bit just because they feel soccer here isn’t our No. 1 sport,” he continued. “I will say that compared to when I first went over to now, I think that the perception of American players has somewhat changed. I think a lot of players are impressed when they come over here for preseason tours. They see the quality of the players, the facilities, and just how big the game is getting over here. It’s still work in progress but it has made a tremendous improvement from when I first played here.” The league is on the upswing, but it remains to be seen if Edu's game is on a similar trajectory. He made only one first-team appearance with Stoke City during his 18 months with the club. The move didn’t work out has he hoped or expected, but Edu said it wasn’t a complete loss either. “I feel that I’ve grown in terms of where I was when I started off in this league to where I am now,” Edu said of his time at Stoke. “I think being mentally strong is something that has helped me over the years. I’m very confident in myself I and I know what I’m capable of doing. Even if I’m not getting picked, I’m still going to go out and work hard every day in training to get something out of it, make myself better, and show that I deserve to be on the pitch.” Constantly battling for playing time, Edu said, has made him stronger. “It forces you to mature and grow as a player. You have to be very mentally strong and mentally tough and have a lot of self-belief to survive over there. Every day is a fight. You’re fighting with everyone for a position on the pitch. I guess sometimes you might feel that the cards are against you just because you’re American or whatever the case is. You just have to push that stuff aside and focus on playing. You have to look at it like ‘I’m a soccer player, he’s a soccer player, forget what our nationalities are.’" Also on Edu’s mind: the U.S. national team. Edu has 45 caps but due to injury and a lack of playing time with Stoke CIty, Edu's last appearance for his country was nearly 10 months ago—a hard-fought draw with Mexico at Azteca Stadium. When the opportunity to return to Philadelphia materialized, Edu discussed it with U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who “was in support of the move” and "made it very clear that the most important thing was just to get back playing.” It remains to be seen, however, if Edu can make a strong enough impression with the Union in time to influence Klinsmann's thinking for Brazil. There are just two more friendlies to go before the World Cup camp opens in May: a March 5th contest against Ukraine and an expected match in April that will likely feature North America-based players. Klinsmann recently indicated that players like Edu still have a chance to earn a World Cop spot. "The door is still open until May,” Klinsmann said. “It’s about what happens over the next couple of months. We coaches are going to do our homework as well. We are going to put the puzzle together of hopefully 23 players that are totally committed, that are not only giving everything they have, but that also mix well together." Mixing well into the team is one of the strengths for Edu, who has played in a World Cup, multiple World Cup qualifiers, the Olympics, and other important games. For now he remains focused on the Union and realizes his club play is going to dictate his international opportunities. “I definitely don’t think time is running out,” Edu said of Brazil. “I had surgery in the summer. If not for the injury, I would have been involved in the qualifiers and maybe even the Gold Cup. I just need to get back playing and help the Union out first and foremost. The national team, of course, is one of my goals and going to this World Cup and playing in it are goals too." "But I think you have to crawl before you can walk. If I’m not playing well here, I have no chance at getting picked. I just have to focus and make sure I’m doing things well at the club level.” Do you think Edu has a shot to make the World Cup roster? Would you like to see him on the team? Share your thoughts below. Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
February 10, 2014
February 10, 2014