American midfielder Maurice Edu has had his ups and downs.
Cutting a university career short to join Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit Toronto FC in 2007, the bustling, brawny workhorse looked to be on his way straight to the top. He won the North American league’s ‘rookie of the year’ award, given out to the best first-year player each season, and followed it up with a series of successful appearances for USA's national team.
Three days after his stint at the 2008 Olympic Games in August ended, the versatile ‘Mo’ – who deputised creditably at centre-back in Beijing – was on a plane to Glasgow, signing for Scottish giants Rangers. Inside a year-and-a-half, the 23 year old had exploded on the MLS scene, outgrown it, become a regular for his national team and signed a lucrative deal with a prestigious European club.
However, the glory days were short-lived for young Edu. Almost at once upon arrival in Scotland, the physically robust holding midfielder was dropped to the reserves. In the second half of the season, though, he did manage to scratch and claw his way into the first team, doing his part to help Rangers to a domestic double. His rise was then cut short, a knee injury cruelly ruling him out as his team-mates went on to celebrate a silverware-laden season.
The knock proved more serious than suspected, too, and saw Edu scratched from the USA side for the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa one month later. The competition turned out to be a watershed for the underdog Americans, Bob Bradley’s men besting Egypt and Spain and stretching Brazil in an historic and dramatic final. The Americans had earned respect on the world stage, and Edu had missed the party.
The disappointment was not easily put to one side either, as his next appearance for Rangers didn’t come for a full seven months, finally fit after surgery and extensive rehabilitation. In the meantime, Ricardo Clark had stepped into his role in the national team, grabbing hold with both hands as Edu’s hopes for a return to South Africa – this time the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ – grew dim. “It’s every player’s dream to line up at a World Cup,” was the player’s simple assessment of his ambitions to FIFA.com while at the Olympics in China. “I’m no different. I feel a lot of pride when I pull on the US jersey and I want to keep moving forward with the team.”
A fierce competitor, Edu refused to throw in the towel. He grafted his way back into the reckoning at club level, albeit usually as a substitute, as the club began to establish a sizable lead this term at the top of the Scottish table. When the old enemy Celtic came calling at Ibrox on 28 February, the passion was predictably bubbling, and the possibility of Rangers extending a ten-point lead over their city rivals with a game in hand was there on offer.
An injury forced coach Walter Smith to throw his American midfielder on in the 27th minute with the scores tangled at nil-all. The stage was set for heroics. Almost at once, Edu hit the back of the net and wheeled off to celebrate his turn of luck, and surely a rebirth in a stop-start career. But football being a cruel game, his 'goal' was waved off by the referee for a handball in the build-up. He wouldn’t let his head drop, though, and with just seconds to go, Edu – always determined, never fazed – was sniffing around the six-yard box. When the ball was parried by Celtic keeper Artur Boruc after a corner-kick, Edu was the man on hand to tap in the simplest goal of his life, and also the most important.
A new dawn
The celebrations that followed befitted an injury-time winner in an Old Firm derby, and the expression on the face of Edu, mobbed by his teammates, told a story of perseverance, disappointment and grit. "Nothing compares to this in my career, even at international level,” said Edu, who also appeared in Rangers’ weekend League Cup final win over St. Mirren. “This is the most exciting moment. But in football you have lots of highs and lows. You enjoy the exciting moments but don't let them overwhelm you. And the same when you have lows, you just have to try to overcome them and get on with it,” the player, clearly matured by his sizable struggles, concluded.
Sometimes a goal is just a goal, but on such occasions careers can turn. And US coach Bradley will have taken note of Edu’s big achievement and the fortitude shown in fighting his way back. The player also impressed in a recent friendly loss to the Netherlands, his first cap since playing less than two minutes against El Salvador in March of 2009 and the last game before Bradley names his side for South Africa 2010. There might well be a place for Edu on the Stars and Stripes’ flight to South Africa, where he painfully missed out on those heady glories in 2009. And with Clark – his replacement at that historic FIFA Confederations Cup – struggling mightily with injuries, poor form and low confidence after a move to Bundesliga outfit Frankfurt, the door looks to be propped open for the opportunistic Edu.
You have to take your chances in football, and Edu looks poised to pounce again.