Sometimes, our dreams don’t always pan out the way that we expect them. When Maurice Edu decided to leave the University of Maryland, he was taking an enormous leap of faith.
But, as it turns out, Edu’s decision to become a professional soccer player worked out pretty well for him. After entering the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, Edu was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by Toronto FC, an expansion side who was entering the league that year.
“It’s weird because at first, I was kind of wary about going to Toronto,” said Edu. “I didn’t know much about it. Here in the U.S., there isn’t an negative stigma about Canada but I still didn’t know what to expect. One of my college teammates was actually from Toronto and he kept telling how it was a great city with great people so I went into the situation with my eyes wide-open.”
Though he went in with an open attitude, Edu struggled to keep it up when he arrived, mostly because he showed up to training in the middle of January and as a native of California, he wasn’t used to the below-freezing temperatures of a Toronto winter.
The team eventually left to go train in Florida, something that was much more his speed, and after six weeks they returned to Toronto when temperatures were a little bit more bearable.
“Our first few games were away and then we finally came back in April for our first home game,” Edu said. “I was able to see what our fans were like, unbelievable. It was a sold out stadium with passionate fans and for me that kind of opened my eyes and I said to myself ‘OK, maybe this could be alright.’”
- READ: Maurice Edu player bio
The next game they played was a home game against the Chicago Fire, a game that Edu remembers vividly because it was a day of firsts for both him and the club.
“It was our first win, we scored our first goal because we had gone four or five games without a goal and then I scored my first goal,” said Edu. “That kind of changed everything for me. It opened my eyes to what the city had to offer, to what the city was like. The weather had changed, which was huge for me, and it was perfect at that point.”
Edu would go on to have a very good season in Toronto, scoring four goals and notching one assist en route to winning the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year Award. He played a total of two seasons for Toronto, during which he was called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team, before he started to receive offers from overseas.
“Rangers FC was one of the first teams to put in a bid for me,” Edu said. “It felt like a good fit so the league accepted the deal and my coach did what he could to facilitate the deal.”
The experience that Edu had at Rangers during his four years at the club was something that helped him to develop as a player and as a person. He went from being one of the top players on Toronto to an average player at Rangers, which along with Celtic, was one of the two biggest teams in Scotland and the Scottish Premier League.
“I was fortunate because DaMarcus Beasley was there so he kind of helped me along the way,” said Edu. “He helped me to settle in off the pitch which made playing a little bit easier. I think that experience was invaluable to me. There I experienced a lot of great moments, playing in Champions League, winning cups, winning league titles, scoring goals, playing in the Old Firm Derby. A lot of things that were on my checklist as a kid.”
It was during his time with Rangers that Edu was at his best for the USMNT, getting called up to the US’ 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa. He ended up playing in three of the teams four games, including starting in the game against Algeria which the US won 1-0.
Edu returned to the Rangers after the World Cup and enjoyed two more years there but when the team fell on hard times financially, he knew that it was time to move on. At the time, Stoke City expressed a good deal of interest in him and that fact that they were in the Premier League made a large impact on him.
“I think the Premier League was always an attraction, something most kids dream of playing in,” Edu said. “When Stoke came in, for me, I kind of looked past other offers and decided that I wanted to do this and go there and try to make a name for myself.”
Unfortunately for Edu, his time in Stoke was far from what he pictured it to be, struggling to make it into the first team at all. After speaking with recently appointed USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann, Edu knew that he was going to have to be playing at club level if he wanted to get selected for international play.
“After that conversation, I went on loan for sixth months in Turkey,” said Edu. “At the end of that spell, I suffered an injury, I had a hernia. That was a setback because that summer we had World Cup qualifiers as well as the Gold Cup so the ruled me out of all of that stuff.”
By the time he had fully recovered from his injury, he had a new coach at Stoke but was still unable to get playing time. At this point, Edu realized that if he wanted a chance to make the 2014 World Cup roster, he was going to have to leave Stoke and play somewhere else full-time.
“Fortunately for me, the Philadelphia Union showed a lot of interest in me and moved a few mountains to make this transfer happen to get me here,” Edu said. “When they showed that much interest in me, I felt that it could be a good situation for me. For the organization to do so much to get me here, it shows how much they valued me so I made the move to come here on loan starting last season.”
In his first season with the Union, Edu played in 31 games primarily as a midfielder in the first half of the season and then mostly centerback towards the second half, scoring three goals and notching two assists. Edu played well enough to be selected for the 2014 MLS All-Star, appearing as a substitute in the second half. He was also critical to the team’s run in the Open Cup last year, scoring the team’s only goal by converting a penalty in the first half.
This year, Edu was named the team’s captain, taking the mantle from former captain Brian Carroll.
“This year, when Jim came in and told me I was going to be captain, for me, it was humbling,” said Edu. “Brian Carroll was a tremendous captain and he’s still a big part of this group, one of the most professional players I’ve ever played with. I saw this opportunity as another challenge because it’s not longer solely about me and my performances, it’s about the bigger picture. How can I help other guys help this team? How can I still be the guy that the players can turn to when things get rough to pick them up and get them through this?”
For Edu, the chance to be a captain has allowed him to grow even more and gain a deeper appreciation for the game. Though when he initially came to Philadelphia, it was to get playing time in order to be selected for the national team, he is now firmly entrenched in both this city and the fans.
“I love walking out and leading the team onto the field on game days, being the guy in the huddle trying to motivate guys, both through my words and with my play,” Edu said. “I can’t wait until we lift our first trophy. I can’t wait until I’m on the podium and everyone is there, the team, the fans, and we’re lifting the first trophy for this club.”
This was the second part of a two-part series regarding Maurice Edu. You can read the first part here.
Contact Union writer Kyle Basedow at email@example.com.