CHESTER, Pa. — Maurice Edu isn't one to shy away from a good challenge.
As the Philadelphia Union midfielder practiced penalty kicks against teammate Andre Blake at PPL Park on Friday, the naturally right-footed Edu decided to see what that left boot was capable of.
The first attempt skimmed the top of the crossbar. Blake laughed. Edu groaned. But the second curled inside the goalkeeper's left-hand post. The third found net as well.
It was that inherent pursuit of a true test — and confidence in overcoming the odds — that led Edu to stick with Stoke City last summer. After managing just one appearance with Stoke during his first campaign (spending half the season on loan in Turkey), Edu felt good about his chances under new manager Mark Hughes.
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But offseason sports hernia surgery threw a wrench in his plans. The rehabilitation process lingered, and Edu ended up missing out on preseason. Minutes still proved elusive when his fitness caught up. Once-routine call-ups to the U.S. national team halted.
Edu doesn't regret staying to fight for his place in the English Premier League. Yet he also understood playing time was a necessity if he wanted to reclaim his status on the international stage.
"If you're naive enough to think that everything is going to go your way all the time, it might hit you hard when things don't," Edu told Goal USA. "It's all behind me now, but it's a learning experience. I took everything when I was there seriously and showed well for myself and worked hard, but for me I know it's important to be playing, especially to be involved with the national team. So I knew I had to get out of there."
For the 2007 Rookie of the Year, the January return to MLS represented a renaissance of sorts. Playing for a club that didn't exist and in a stadium that wasn't built when he left Toronto FC for Europe in 2008, Edu felt "fresh and anxious — like a little kid."
Through 11 games, the 28-year-old has logged every minute for Philadelphia and scored two goals along the way. After going more than a year without playing for the USA, Edu returned to the fold with 18 minutes off the bench in last month's 2-2 draw against Mexico.
When U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Monday unveiled his 30-man preliminary roster for the World Cup, Edu made the cut — keeping alive his dream of a second-straight trip.
As Union coach John Hackworth said last week, "There's a very positive feeling about what Mo has done so far this year, and what he's capable of doing for the national team."
"It's something you don't take for granted," Edu said. "To be sitting, watching on TV, for me it sucked. As much as I was encouraging the guys and I wanted to see the team do well and qualify for the World Cup, I missed being a part of that. Every game I was sitting there watching anxiously, dying for a chance to get back there."
Maurice Edu battles Alan Pulido during the USA's 2-2 draw with Mexico on April 2.
Before the Mexico friendly, Klinsmann spoke of a "sense of urgency" surrounding Edu and expressed a desire for the player to "become a leader right away."
The commanding box-to-box midfielder expected no less of himself. As a World Cup veteran boasting UEFA Champions League experience, Edu has embraced that role on a youthful Union side.
"He's brought a higher level in everything we do on the training field and in the locker room," Union captain Brian Carroll said. "He's always having fun interacting with all of his teammates, but he's also instructing and advising as well. He knows how to do all of those things, and keep it light and keep it professional."
After going into the 2010 pre-World Cup camp on the inside track toward a roster slot, Edu will travel to Palo Alto, California, realizing he's a fringe player this time around.
With the national team, Edu knows it's his job to sit deep, protect the back four and let his central midfield partner — often Michael Bradley — pull the strings. Having shown he can do that job in a World Cup works in Edu's favor, as does his ability to also play center back.
Yet the emergence of Kyle Beckerman as the top backup to Jermaine Jones and Bradley means Edu has his work cut out making the final 23-man squad. Defender Geoff Cameron's ability to play the position doesn't help either.
For his part, Edu isn't dwelling too much on the particulars.
"I'm confident in who I am as a person and a player," Edu said. "Jurgen, he knows what I can bring to this team. He knows what my qualities are, what my weaknesses are. So for me, it's just about making sure that I'm fit, sharp, and when I go into camp that I go into it with the right mentality.
"I'm not thinking too far ahead about things or worrying about things I can't control — all I can control is how I go out there and perform."