On March 9, 2016, the Philadelphia Union lost one of their biggest leaders, Maurice Edu, to an injury that ruled him out for a minimum of three months. Coming off a season opening loss to Dallas, there was no time to dwell.
But, the team has since turned it around; stringing together four wins in their next six games to move into first place in the Eastern Conference as the calendar closes in on May.
The team’s new philosophy and hard work has them performing at a high level and perhaps most importantly, on a consistent basis. But although Edu has been sidelined, he has been actively helping the team in anyway possible.
“Before every game, it’s a little bit strange you know,” Edu said. “I’m approaching the game from a completely different perspective. Being on the bench, it’s almost like a fan’s perspective. Before the game, I talk to the guys, motivate them, make sure they are ready for the game, wish them luck, encourage them, that kind of stuff.”
In terms of being involved, Edu is doing much more than just motivating players.
“I’ve kept him busy, giving little scouting reports looking ahead to the team that we’re playing in the coming week just to see how he sees the game,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “It’s good for me as a coach to see what he sees as attacking and defensive strengths of our group, of another team’s group, what players he rates, what players he doesn’t.”
Edu, having played in top leagues around the world, has acquired a great football IQ. Therefore, scouting players around the league has come naturally to him.
“It’s been impressive, he’s done a good job with it, it keeps him busy,” Curtin added.
Starting off the season with good results has been a huge motivating factor in Edu’s rehab. Although the rehab schedule is not entirely in his hands, the winning encourages him to get back on the field sooner.
“It’s been encouraging though, the team started off a lot better than we started off in the last couple of years,“ Edu said. “There’s a whole new look to the team, the way we approach the games, the way we go out about the games. The results we have had so far, they have been positive so for watching, I’m anxious, I’m eager. I want to be back and a part of that.”
The injury keeping Edu out for a minimum of three months is a stress fracture in his lower left leg.
“The rehab process is out of my control, in terms of how my body heals,” he said. “But I’m doing everything I can and as much as I can, to try to speed that process up, encourage that process, promote that process. And along the way, I’m trying to maintain my head because you know; it can be tough at times. Especially when it’s an injury like this, a bone healing, the timetable can vary. I just try to keep my head, and take things day by day.”
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As an injured player, the worst part of rehab is not being able to be around the team, performing individual drills demoralizes a player. Which is perhaps one reason why Curtin has involved Edu into training sessions.
“I think it’s always hard as an injured player to feel part of the group,” he said. “And I think him being on the field, riding a bike, starting to do some exercises with the guys, having a pass, little thing like that, keeps him involved.”
Of course, the Union have had some ups and downs this season. Along with the three wins, the team has also picked up three difficult losses on the road. As a leader in the locker room, Edu realizes the importance of these losses and how the team, especially the young guys, should learn from them.
“You learn from those games that you lost, you take the positives from that and you try to replicate those,” Edu said. “You learn from mistakes, you try to correct them and you look forward to the next game because it’s a long season. And if you allow yourself to dwell on things too much, all it’s going to do is harm you and be detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish here.”
Along with learning from your mistakes, the main goal for every leader is to make sure the entire locker room gels, and plays, together. Edu and the Union have done exactly that in their successful start.
“Everyone gets along really well, and that kind of shows on the pitch as well,” Edu said. “You see guys are willing to fight and die for each other out there and you need that. We have a lot more depth this season and that’s helped us too.”