Edu's Career Is Simply Taking Off
Thursday, September 4, 2008
MIAMI, Sept. 3 -- Another week, another team, another country.
Maurice Edu's MLS season with Toronto FC was interrupted by a trip to China with the U.S. Olympic men's team. He returned home for a few days, only to learn he needed to be in Scotland to finalize a deal with a new club, Glasgow Rangers. But before he could begin his European career, he was off to Guatemala with the U.S. men's national team for a World Cup qualifier. Then, after being serenaded by Rangers supporters before a game against their fiercest rivals, he was on his way here to prepare for Saturday's historic trip to Cuba.
"It's been busy," Edu said Tuesday, "but it's been good."
Like his recent travels, Edu's career has been moving at a dizzying pace since he left the University of Maryland after his junior season. Until the past year, he was largely unknown in the U.S. soccer community, having never been selected for any of the youth national teams. Yet he now finds himself with one of Europe's most famous clubs and in the mix for a spot on the 2010 World Cup team.
"As a young kid, you are playing and your [peers] are all part of those [select] teams," said Edu, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria to attend U.S. colleges. "At times you get down, but at the same time it's motivation. You see them doing it so you are like, 'I train every day with these guys, I play every day, why can't I be in this position?' It made me work harder. I guess you could say everyone has their own course. For me, my time wasn't then. Maybe I was a late bloomer."
Edu, 22, played for a variety of youth clubs near his home town of Fontana, Calif., before arriving in College Park and, as a sophomore, helping the Terrapins win the 2005 NCAA championship, their first in 37 years. He stayed at Maryland for one more year, fine-tuning his skills as a defensive midfielder before deciding to turn pro. Expansion Toronto selected him with the first overall pick in the 2007 MLS draft and, despite an unglamorous role on a predictably poor team, he was named the league's rookie of the year.
In October of last year, U.S. Coach Bob Bradley invited him to national team training camp and started him in friendlies against Switzerland and South Africa. "You got that sense he was a quick learner," Bradley said.
Edu parlayed that experience and his emergence in MLS into a regular role with the under-23 squad, which comprised the bulk of the Olympic team in China. His understanding of the game and vision on the field prompted a move into central defense.
Describing the potential Edu brings to the senior national team, Bradley said: "He's athletic, he's very easy on his feet in terms of just the way he moves around the field. As is often the case now, thinking faster, seeing things faster is a big part of playing on a higher level. Those are areas where we hope to see him to continue to improve. Certainly a move to a club like Rangers should help in that regard. The day-to-day competition is great. The challenge to compete at that level will be good for him."
Edu's transition to European soccer, though, has been repeatedly interrupted by national team call-ups. But in the short amount of time he has spent in Glasgow, he has embraced his new club -- and the fans have embraced him.
Last Sunday, amid the commotion of pregame rituals at famed Celtic Park, Edu thought he heard his name being called. He ignored it. From out of the visiting supporters' section, he heard it again.
"I was jogging and stretching," he recalled. "I started listening a little bit. It sounded like they were saying, 'Edu.' I was like, 'Are they really saying that?' I started listening a little more, and that's what they were saying."
Though he couldn't decipher the lyrics, Edu understood the meaning: He was one of them.
"It's a cool feeling, you know, first game," he said. "I didn't even play in a game and they already had a chant for me. It was a nice welcome."
Edu was scheduled to make his debut in the second half against Celtic, but a teammate's red card foiled those plans. Rangers won the game, 4-2, in the season's first encounter between clubs with a rivalry that transcends sport and is rooted in sectarian divides (Catholics for Celtic, Protestants for Rangers).
His introduction was short-lived, however, as he was back on a plane for another transatlantic assignment. After the match in Havana, Edu will be on the move again with the U.S. team for a qualifier on Wednesday against Trinidad and Tobago outside Chicago.
"This is what I always wanted," he said, "and I always hoped it would turn out this way."