Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
While most Americans were completely ecstatic about the U.S. national team's run to the Confederations Cup final last summer, one who found the performances tough to watch was Maurice Edu.
It wasn't because Edu was having a change of heart about the national team he played for nor was it because he wanted to see it lose. Instead, Edu felt the pain of being unable to build on the promise he had shown for Rangers FC, as a knee injury suffered on the last day of the season prevented him from partaking in the United States' historical run.
"That was my first serious injury," said Edu. "Before that the longest I had been out was four, six weeks. That was real frustrating because I didn't know how to deal with an injury like that."
It took Edu seven months to step on the field again, but his return was shortlived as an ankle injury picked up in a Scottish Cup match in January saw him miss more time.
"I think they rushed him back," said head coach Bob Bradley. "He ended up getting thrown into the Old Firm game, where really he had not been back that long and somebody went down with an injury and he got put on the field. That was probably a bit too early."
Edu wasn't sidelined as long with the ankle injury and made his way back into the team in February. Upon making his return, Edu was used primarily as a substitute and in a critical match against rival Celtic, he came off the bench to score the game-winner in a 1-0 victory.
Performances like that not only helped Edu establish himself as a rotational player for Rangers towards its repeat run of the Scottish League title, they also earned him his first callup to the national team for a March tuneup against the Netherlands.
Edu came off the bench in that match, playing the entire second half as the U.S. dropped a 2-1 result. Despite losing, Edu looked more composed on the ball, was tidier in possession and helped break up several attacks, things he struggled with when he saw time in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying in fall 2008.
It was that cameo against the Dutch, coupled with a strong showing down the stretch for Scottish champion Rangers FC, that has given Edu confidence as he hopes to get back into the thick of things and challenge for a starting spot in the pre-World Cup camp.
"I've been out of things for a while so I'm just trying to ease back into things, but at the same time make my mark and make a statement with my play," said Edu. "You always want to start games and feel that you're really part of the team and playing in a role where you can influence the game and try to influence the team as well."
To do that, Edu will need to outwrestle teammates Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Ricardo Clark and Sacha Kljestan, all of whom have started alongside Michael Bradley during Edu's hibernation from the international game.
"There's a lot of talented players in there competing and that's what you need on any team: a lot of competition for spots," said Edu. "Competition just brings out the best in players and leading up the World Cup that's exactly what you need. You need everyone to be pushing each other to get the best out of us and build the best team possible."
With Bob Bradley having the luxury of several talented midfielders at his disposal, Edu has also not ruled out playing at center back if need be.
"Centerback I played in the Olympics so it's a role that is somewhat familiar to me," said Edu. "I feel actually pretty comfortable back there. It's not something I suppose (will present) a real struggle. I have to say that it's an easy position to play but I don't feel too out of sorts playing back there. Obviously my preferred position is in the midfield, but if they need me (at centerback) then I'll definitely back there."
Regardless of where he plays, Edu is looking forward to the challenges that await him this summer and all indications point to him being ready to seize the moment.