CHESTER, Pa. – When Maurice Edu first joined the Philadelphia Union in the offseason, John Hackworth confidently declared that his prized acquisition from Stoke City would be a box-to-box midfielder.
But now Hackworth is gone, and so, too, may be Edu’s preferred position.
On Tuesday, in interim manager Jim Curtin’s first game at the helm following last week’s firing of Hackworth, Edu made his first start of the season at center back, anchoring the defense and moving forward to score the dramatic tying goal in a 3-1 extra-time win over the Harrisburg City Islanders in the fourth round of the US Open Cup.
Afterward, neither Curtin nor Edu committed to the move as a long-term decision. When asked what the future holds for him at the position, Edu said Curtin told him he’d stay at center back “for a couple of games and see how it goes."
“I want to help the team in any way possible, so I played there tonight and we got a win,” Edu said. “We’ll take the momentum from this one and go into the next one.”
Edu could be in line to remain at center back even once league play resumes for the Union on July 28 against the New England Revolution.
“With Mo, I had a good talk with him,” Curtin said. “It was a hard talk, but at the same time, I thought it was best for the team that he play center back. And he did a good job tonight. He gets us the goal, and obviously he can still be dangerous on set pieces.”
Indeed, it was Edu’s game-tying goal in the 89th minute -- by which point he was basically playing as an extra target forward -- that allowed the Union to erase a late 1-0 deficit and win in overtime on the strength of two Andrew Wenger goals.
Edu has played center back in the past – including a shutout win against Mexico in Estadio Azteca for the US national team in 2012 – so the most unfamiliar part of the move came in his center-back partner. On Tuesday, he was paired with natural right back Sheanon Williams, while Amobi Okugo sat out due to a coach's decision.
It is unclear what the partnership will look like going forward and whether Okugo – a natural midfielder who has played center back for the Union for the past two seasons – could be in line to swap positions with Edu.
But Curtin, a former MLS All-Star defender, is confident that Edu can handle the change and thrive on the back line, just as he’s thrived for most of his career as a midfielder.
“Mo’s a soccer player,” the interim manager said. “You could put Mo at forward. You could put Mo wide in the midfield. He can play any position. And to his credit, he came in and did a good job at center back.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.