Saturday, August 1, 2015

Maurice Edu enjoying MLS All-Star festivities as playoff chase looms

The last few days have been quite hectic for Union midfielder Maurice Edu, and understandably so.

Maurice Edu enjoying MLS All-Star festivities as playoff chase looms

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Maurice Edu has been all smiles during MLS All-Star Week festivities in Portland. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports)
Maurice Edu has been all smiles during MLS All-Star Week festivities in Portland. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports)

PORTLAND, Ore. - The last few days have been quite hectic for Union midfielder Maurice Edu, and understandably so. 

Edu didn't find out that he'd be part of the Major League Soccer All-Star Game as an injury replacement until just before Friday's game at Sporting Kansas City. After a hard-fought 1-1 draw, he returned to Philadelphia, quickly packed a suitcase, and turned right back around to fly to Portland. 

But if you didn't know about Edu's packed schedule, you wouldn't have guessed it. The 28-year-old was all smiles in the Rose City ahead of Wednesday's matchup with Bayern Munich (9:30 p.m., ESPN2, UniMás, TSN, RDS Info).

"It's definitely an honor, and one that I'm very appreciative of. I owe a lot to my club and my teammates for helping me achieve this accolade." 

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Edu is here based on a combination of name recognition and merit. Though he isn't an all-action type in the Union's midfield, his versatility on defense and leadership on the field have been clear to many observers. 

That versatility is his biggest asset. It's why he almost made the U.S. World Cup team, and it's why All-Stars coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers wanted Edu to join the squad. 

Porter wants a result, after all, as do fans around MLS. That will be a tough task, though, with stars like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry and newly-signed Robert Lewandoski leading Bayern's attack. 

Not that Edu needs reminding. 

"We know they're a quality side, one of the best teams in the world," Edu said. "We're looking forward to it, we're all excited, and we want to represent MLS and our country very well. So we're definitely going out there looking to get a win - we're competitive, we're professionals, every game we take seriously and this is no different." 

The biggest challenge Edu and his teammates will face tonight is containing their opponents. The second-biggest is building chemistry of their own from a group of players who rarely play together. 

It will help that many of the All-Stars know each other from the U.S. national team. Ten of the 23 players on the active roster have been part of the program at one point or another, and Edu has played with just about all of them. 

"Any kind of chemistry or familiarity you have with some of the players is obviously beneficial," Edu said. "But at the end of the day, we're all professionals. When you get on the pitch, it's just trying to communicate, get familiar with the guy next to you as quickly as possible, and adapt to the situations you're put in." 

A few of them share the common trait of having returned to MLS from Europe in recent months. Along with Edu, there's Toronto's Michael Bradley, Seattle's Clint Dempsey and Columbus' Michael Parkhurst. 

The wave of players who have chosen stardom in MLS over the challenges of life abroad has generated lots of headlines, both good and bad. Edu has no doubt that he and his colleagues made the right decision. 

"It shows that we're confident not only in who we are as players, but also that we're confident in this league," he said. "We're confident that this league is now at a point where it's very competitive, the level of play is high." 

That confidence was borne out at the World Cup, where many MLS players rose to international prominence. Edu was not surprised, and he's optimistic about the future 

"That's a credit to this league and the product we're putting on the field here," he said. "I think we're headed in the right direction as a country and as a league. MLS working in tandem with our national team, as [one is] more successful, it leads to the other being more successful as well." 

Edu's immediate future after the All-Star Game will involve trying to steer the Union to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Philadelphia is currently in seventh place, three points back of fifth-place Chicago. 

"Despite the early results, I think we've put together a pretty good season," Edu said. "I've been confident in this team from the beginning, and I've always believed we can achieve something special this year. Now we're starting to get the results we want. It's a matter of building off that and continuing to play the good soccer we've been playing." 

The Union's construction work will get a big boost from the arrival of two summer reinforcements, defender Carlos Valdés and goalkeeper Raïs M'Bolhi. That could happen as soon as Saturday's home game against the Montréal Impact. 

"We're all excited," Edu said. "Whenever you get fresh faces in, it livens up the group again. And these are quality signings, so we're all looking forward to getting them into the group pretty quickly." 

Edu hasn't had much time to see either player in person yet. Valdés didn't arrive in Philadelphia until after Edu left for Portland, and there was only time for "a brief conversation" with M'Bolhi on Thursday. 

For the moment, Edu's focus is on Bayern Munich. But he'll have to hit the ground running when he returns to PPL Park. There's still time to make a playoff run, but there isn't much - and he's well aware that the clock is running.

Philly.com
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