Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
TEMPE, Ariz. — Maurice Edu is back with the U.S. Men’s National Team for the first time in a year, and he is as excited about it as anyone could imagine.
After an absence that dates back to March 2013, Edu has returned to the U.S. picture with impeccable timing. The World Cup is about two months away and Edu’s chances of playing in his second straight tournament are as high as they have been since he played in a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw in Mexico on March 26, 2013.
The prospects of now being back in the fray for one of the 23 roster spots for Brazil means a lot to Edu, especially after facing so much uncertainty for the better part of the past year due to his struggles to get onto the field at Stoke City.
“It’s been a little while now and I’ve been eager, I’ve been itching and just waiting for my chance,” said Edu ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico. “Obviously, I knew it was important just to get back playing with my club team so making the decision to come back (to MLS) was very important to me and as soon as I made that decision I’ve been focused. I’ve been focused knowing that if I’m doing well with my club team I will get the opportunities.
“I’ve just focused all my concentration in helping the Philadelphia Union and starting off the season positively and I’ve been rewarded with this call-up and now I’m just excited to be here and take it from here.”
The 27-year-old Edu has made a smooth transition in joining the Union, who signed him on loan as a Designated Player during the offseason. Edu called the move the “right one” prior to the U.S.’s Monday training session and it is hard to argue that point.
Edu has started in every game so far this season, a drastic change from his time at Stoke, and has proven to be an integral part of John Hackworth’s system in Phladelphia. The central midfielder covers a lot of ground, breaks up plays, brings a physicality and bite that was sorely needed, and even has the freedom to join in on the attack on occasion.
“They’ve made me feel welcome really quickly,” said Edu. “I knew a couple of the guys going into it, so that was good. But it’s a really good group of guys, eager and ambitious. I think we’re going to have a good season. I’m very confident in this group and so far the early signs I’ve been impressed with the guys, their workrates, the stuff they do behind the scenes to make sure they’re fit and ready for the games. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season with them.”
Interestingly enough, Edu is also being counted upon for his wealth of experience. The Union are still a relative young side and the dynamic within the squad has already brought Edu into a leadership role despite him being one of the newest players in the locker room.
Some veterans might see that type of responsibility as a burden given that they are still acclimating to their new surroundings, but not Edu. He has gladly accepted it.
“I welcome those things because I know when I was a younger guy there were certain guys I looked up to on my team,” said Edu. “If I can be that to some of the younger guys and that inspiration for them – them seeing me go away to camp now and hopefully they aspire to do the same thing – and they’ll look at it and say, ‘Mo was rewarded for his play. I want to do the same thing.’ I definitely welcome the responsibility and the leadership role and I’ve enjoyed it thus far.”
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has noticed Edu’s impact on and off the field for the Union, and that is why he has rewarded Edu with his first U.S. call-up in 12 months. Edu is now hoping to make the most of the opportunity, but he has some serious competition in midfield from the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Danny Williams for a spot on the plane to Brazil.
Still, Edu boasts plenty of qualities and the type of versatility that should give him a good chance of making it there this summer.
“Obviously, (he’s) a guy that has good experience playing in the national team, playing in the World Cup,” midfielder Michael Bradley, who has long played alongside Edu, told SBI. “It’s good to have him back and I think Mo’s a guy who always in the group has a really good way and so I think just having him around is a great thing.”
Perhaps it is fitting that Edu is set to make his U.S. return against Mexico, given the fact it was the last opponent he faced a year ago and one he knows well. Having that chance and being back with the national team clearly means the world to Edu, but not just because of his time away.
“It didn’t take that for me to appreciate it. I’ve always appreciated it,” said Edu. “I’ve always said it’s a humbling experience and something I haven’t and never will take for granted. There’s many great players around this country that don’t get a chance to represent their country and I’m fortunate to have done it and hopefully continue to do it.”