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Maurice Edu's road back to MLS games remains long despite seeing USL action

CHESTER, Pa. — Over the weekend, Maurice Edu got his first live game minutes in nearly a year, suiting up for the Philadelphia Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.

But the Union midfielder wasn’t particularly in the mood to celebrate the occasion. He’s been through too much, for too long, to believe Sunday’s 30-minute appearance vs. Louisville City FC could signal a turning point in his brutally slow recovery process from several major leg injuries.

“You take it with a grain of salt,” Edu told reporters after the Union’s training session Tuesday. “Obviously I’m happy because this year’s been hell. But with the real excitement will be when I walk out on the pitch with the first team.”

When will that happen?

Edu — who last played an MLS game on Sept. 20, 2015 — isn’t sure. Neither is head coach Jim Curtin, who preached caution even as the 2017 campaign is winding down.

“He has to work his way back to 90 minutes of fitness, which is hard for a guy who’s missed almost going on two seasons now worth of games,” Curtin said. “It’s great for him to get that first 30 minutes under his belt, to connect his passes, gain confidence so he can do it again, which is powerful in itself. Now he has to work his way to start 90 minutes for the Steel. From there, we can talk about being in the 18 for us.”

The Union do have something of a blueprint to work from, considering Edu made three rehab appearances for Bethlehem last season after recovering from a stress fracture. But in a twist of cruel misfortune, he snapped his left fibula in training a day before he was set to make his 2016 debut for the Union in October. 

It was the latter injury that caused him undergo surgery in November and so far miss every game of the 2017 campaign, which could be his last with Philadelphia.

Even if the Union do move on from their standout Designated Player — who played well in 2014 and 2015, mostly as a center back — Curtin still hopes to get at least something out of Edu before the year ends.

“Of course, that’s the hope,” the Union coach said. “It’s been the hope for a long time now. To not have your DP has been tough. It’s a situation that’s been hard for everyone in the organization. It’s hardest on him because he wants to be on the team moving forward and he wants to be on the field.”

Curtin added that even a fully fit Edu may have a hard time immediately cracking the lineup ahead of central midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Derrick Jones, Warren Creavalle and even Brian Carroll. The situation may depend on whether or not the team remains in the playoff race after Wednesday’s road game against Toronto FC (8 pm ET; MLS LIVE in US | TSN in Canada) and Saturday’s home tilt vs. Atlanta United (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

But as he’s done for much of the past two years, Edu is trying his best not to think about anything out of his control. 

“I’ve always felt like I’ve been a pretty strong-minded person and I’ve dealt with other adversity throughout the course of my year,” he said. “But I think when you’re put in situations that are unexpected, it brings out parts of you that maybe you didn’t even know you had. I felt I’ve always been mentally strong but this has definitely challenged me in ways that are slightly different. 

“In other scenarios, there are things I can control. I can dictate what’s gonna happen, I can dictate the outcome. But in this scenario, I haven’t had that luxury so I’ve kinda had to play a waiting game and just be patient and be smart — and also be smart with the thoughts I have in my head and how I channel my energy.”