After enduring two frustrating seasons that were doomed in part by poor starts, Philadelphia Union captain Maurice Edu wants more than anything to help his team enjoy a productive first month of the year in 2016.
But it’s looking increasingly likely that he won’t be able to do that – at least not right away.
Because his recovery from sports hernia surgery in October has been going slower than expected, Edu is doubtful for the Union’s season opener on March 6 vs. FC Dallas (3 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“It’s hard because I want to be out there playing, I want to be out there getting prepared for the season,” Edu told MLSsoccer.com by phone, from the Union’s preseason camp in Florida. “But I have to be smart and trust the staff we have here, listen to them, and make sure I put myself in the best position possible to get out there and help this team.”
Although initially hopeful that Edu would be fine for the start of the regular season, Union head coach Jim Curtin has been preparing for the possibility that he won’t have his captain for at least the opener. Curtin admitted on Tuesday it would “be really tough for Mo to catch up in time even if he started today,” just in terms of fitness. As such, Curtin has been trying out Vincent Nogueira in Edu’s defensive midfield role during the preseason to give him another option besides plugging veteran Brian Carroll in that spot.
Either way, the Union coach knows an already difficult road game against an MLS Cup favorite in FC Dallas will be a whole lot tougher without Edu, whose recovery has been unexpectedly slowed by soreness in other areas.
“As a coach, you always have a Plan A and a Plan B and sometimes a Plan C in terms of injuries,” Curtin said. “At this stage, the fact that he hasn’t been on the field yet, you can kind of read into that if you want. It will be tough. If anyone can do it, it would probably be Mo because he’s kind of a freak athlete who can play through some pain.
“I won’t rule it out completely. But at the same time, we have to at least plan that he’s not able to go.”
Although frustrated by the setbacks, Edu is trying to take a long view and is doing his best to counsel his teammates from the sideline this week as they prepare for March. And he’s liked what he’s seen from them, especially the rookies and new additions.
“It’s very competitive but it’s a healthy competition,” said Edu, who spent much of the preseason rehabbing in Philly before joining his teammates in Florida on Saturday. “You don’t hear any complaining or stuff you would normally get in the preseason. It’s been a hard preseason, which I think is very important for us, especially if we want to start the season off on the right foot.”
The Union don’t have a good track record in this regard. In 2014 – Edu’s first in Philly – the team won just three times in their first 16 games, leading to the midseason firing of former manager John Hackworth. And last year, they got off to a dreadful 1-7-3 start, once again digging “a hole too deep to get out of,” Edu said.
But now, with many new players, new ideas and a new philosophy, the Union captain is hopeful that will change in 2016.
“It’s a chance for us to take the club in a different direction,” Edu said. “What’s happened is in the past. This is a chance to start fresh, establish a new identity and bring this club to where we want to be.”
Where they want to be, of course, is in the playoffs. And that road begins next month, with or without him on the field.
“We’ve underachieved,” Edu admitted. “We haven’t lived up to what our potential should be. This is a chance for all of us, myself included, to go out there and really give our fans something to be proud of, give our city something to be proud of and, more importantly, show that we are a team that deserves to be competing for things, not just a team that’s content to win a game here or there.
“We want to establish a foundation to build on for future years. It starts here. It starts now. It starts this season.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.