Union midfielder Maurice Edu played in a competitive soccer game for the first time since 2016 on Sunday, making an appearance for the club’s minor-league USL team Bethlehem Steel.
“Obviously you’re kind of tentative at first, or you feel like you may be tentative at first after being out for so long,” Edu said after the game. “I kind of played free. I wasn’t too worried about my injury at this point. … Felt good to be back to be back on the pitch.”
The 31-year-old midfielder played the first 31 minutes of Steel’s 3-1 home loss to first-place Louisville City. He started alongside Derrick Jones in a deep midfield position, registering 23 touches in the box score and completing all 17 of his passes. Edu’s replacement was Anthony Fontana, the 17-year-old Delaware-born playmaker who will join the Union next year.
“It’s good experience for our guys to be around [Edu], and I was really happy for him,” Steel coach Brendan Burke said. “That was a good 30 minutes he played. Really good. Controlled the tempo of the game in midfield, and you hope he gets more next time out.”
Edu had not been on the field in an official contest since playing a few games for the Steel in September of last year. He hasn’t suited up for the Union since Sept. 30, 2015, that year’s U.S. Open Cup final.
“The process is what it is — it’s out of my control” Edu said. “All I can do is deal with what is in front of me, and that is keep working [hard] with the medical staff to get fit. This was the next step in the progression. All good, and now I’m eager get some more minutes under my belt and get closer and closer to getting back with the first team as soon as possible.”
It’s possible, though, that a return to playing for the Union may never happen. Edu’s contract with the Union expires at the end of this season, and there are just over two months remaining in it.
According to the MLS Players Union, Edu is earning $818,750 this year. He is the team’s second-most-expensive player behind Alejandro Bedoya, so it would clear a lot of money off the Union’s books if the team lets Edu go. He also plays a similar position to Bedoya, the Union’s captain; and Jones, who is in line to merit more playing time next year.