Philadelphia Union welcome Maurice Edu, who eyes a return to enjoying the game again

WAYNE, Pa. – Taking a break from their classes, the teenagers at the Philadelphia Union-sponsored high school, YSC Academy, jostled for position as the US national team player approached.

They smiled and nudged each other as he posed for a picture with them, and talked breathlessly when he chatted with them about their favorite clubs.

Who could have guessed that through it all, Maurice Edu felt just like one of them.

“I feel like a little kid again,” a smiling Edu said Tuesday while being introduced as the Philadelphia Union’s newest player at a press conference at the high school. “I feel like one of them back there, like it’s the first day. It’s like you’re back playing with your friends.”

Edu’s first-day-of-school excitement stems from feeling like he’s been offered, as he called it, “a new beginning.” After seeing some success while playing for Scotland’s Rangers FC for four years following his 2008 European arrival, Edu struggled to find the field after signing with Stoke City in 2012, plagued in part by injuries.

That prompted a desire return to MLS, and after many negotiations and much posturing, he was officially acquired by the Union on Monday on a one-year loan from Stoke City with an option to purchase.

And while Union manager John Hackworth hopes to eventually make that purchase, Edu hopes to have some fun again.

“It’s a new experience and I just want to get back to enjoying the game,” the central midfielder said. “In the past couple of years, there have been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of worries, a lot of concerns. Sometimes your focus can waver when you’re worrying about things that you shouldn’t, and I just want to get back to enjoying the game. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I probably should have been.”

There was a time when it would have been hard for Edu to not enjoy playing soccer. He won a national championship at the University of Maryland in 2005. He was the top overall pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, the same year he took home MLS Rookie of the Year honors. He started two games at the 2010 World Cup and seemed perched on the brink of something big after an impressive showing in South Africa.

Now 27 years old, Edu has a bit more perspective on what it means to find success in his career and, as he put it on Tuesday, be an “ambassador” to the continued growth of American soccer.

“I think I’m coming back to MLS at an exciting time,” he said. “I’ve been able to go overseas and see what that’s like. And I’m excited to come back home to MLS and I hope to really move this game forward.”

Of course, it would be remiss to not mention Edu’s personal goals, which naturally include getting back into the national team picture and making a late push for this summer’s World Cup. He has not played for Jurgen Klinsmann’s group since last spring, when he appeared in each of the team’s first three World Cup qualifiers.

But he only mentioned the US national team one time during the press conference, and even afterwards, he shrugged off a question about what it will take to get to Brazil.

“I think that stuff will all work itself out,” he said. “I think what’s most important now is to get back playing. You’ve got to crawl before you walk. That’s what I have to do here. I have to get back to playing, get back into form and get back to playing well and consistently. If I don’t do well here, then it’s irrelevant.”

Luckily, early indicators point to him enjoying his situation with the Union. He said that when rumors first broke out that he might play in Philly, the reaction on Twitter was “unbelievable” and was even “the extra push I needed to make sure that I did come here.”

And if social media was buzzing like that, he can’t even imagine what it will be like when he steps onto the field at PPL Park for the first time.

“I’m excited for the first home game, walking out of the tunnel, really looking around the stadium and seeing the fans there,” Edu said. “Actually, I’m more excited for the first goal so I can hear that Doop song.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.