After stints in England, Scotland and Turkey, U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Maurice Edu has settled in well with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, reading from the same page as his teammates in more ways than one.
Winning three Scottish Premier League titles with Glasgow Rangers, the Californian moved to England’s top flight with Stoke City in August 2012. A loan to Bursaspor in Turkey followed last year and in January it was announced that the number one 2007 MLS SuperDraft pick would be returning to his homeland with the Philadelphia Union.
The 28-year-old has not featured in MLS since he was a standout youngster for Toronto FC and he is initially signed to the Union on a one-year loan. The 46-cap U.S. international played in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the experience he has in his armoury makes him a standout name in the Philadelphia ranks.
The Union let manager John Hackworth go last month and former Chicago Fire defender Jim Curtin has come into the role on an interim basis. Maurice has three goals and two assists so far this season but he has found himself being deployed at the heart of the backline recently.
As a senior figure in the squad, it is a responsibility of Maurice’s to lead. Doing this out on the field is one area covered, but the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year has been showing two of the younger players the way when it comes to finding range of a separate kind.
“I had to sing when I joined Toronto and when I joined Rangers,” Maurice recalled. “Me and a couple of my (Union) teammates, Ethan White and Amobi Okugo, have our first album coming out.
“We have this little group going and they think they have strong voices!”
Both White and Okugo are 23 years old and in the case of the latter there are certainly some strong elements of familiarity between him and Maurice. Both have Nigerian heritage but were raised in California and as Maurice has switched from midfield to defence, Okugo has done the opposite.
Okugo grew up in Sacramento but Maurice hails from Fontana and as a hip-hop lover it makes perfect sense that there is some West Coast flavour to his music taste.
“Music is a big part of my life and something I have a genuine interest in. I’m a big fan of hip-hop, rap, r&b and a bit of reggae.
“When I was younger, growing up in California I was really a fan of guys like 2Pac, as well as Snoop Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G. Michael Jackson is still one of my favourites; he was making great music since he was a little boy.
“I like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Kanye West and Jay-Z too.”
Raised by his Nigerian parents in a family with love and support but with strong ideals concerning the value of education, Maurice’s mother was far from convinced when he told her that he wanted to be a professional footballer. His father, also named Maurice, was a talented player back in Nigeria and Maurice Jr. has always shared that desire for the game.
His coach at the University of Maryland, Sasho Cirovski, made a major contribution to his story as he convinced Maurice’s mother Molly that her son should pursue his love for the sport. Cirovski, who also coached current U.S. National Team players Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi, remains in charge of the Terrapins and neither Maurice nor his family have forgotten the role he played in taking him under his wing.
Maurice won the NCAA Championship in his sophomore year at college and the other of his aforementioned music-minded counterparts at Philadelphia also represented the Terps. The ex-D.C. United defender definitely knows how to keep on top of music industry releases, so much so that Maurice suspects he may have sealed himself another job!
“In the locker room, it’s usually my iPod or Ethan White’s and it’s a running joke with him that he seems to know every song that’s out. I think he secretly works as an A&R guy for a record label.”
Starting all 16 of the Union matches he has played in, Maurice has had the opportunity to wear the armband for a part of that time. His goals have arrived via a close-range left-footer at Chicago Fire, a header from Cristian Maidana’s corner at Real Salt Lake, and from the penalty spot at Los Angeles Galaxy.
The team advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semi-final on Tuesday (8th July) with a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution amidst a halt in play of just over an hour at PPL Park thanks to a dust storm. The scorers were Conor Casey and Sébastien Le Toux but another of the attacking players at the Union’s disposal gets a mention from Maurice for a certain pre-game habit he is not overly enamoured with!
He also explains how the Brazilian left-back on the roster lightens the mood and raises eyebrows on a regular basis.
“The guy on our team with the worst music taste is Antoine Hoppenot. I couldn’t even tell you what it is but he takes my iPod off before a game to put it on and it’s just noise!
“One of our Brazilians on the team, Fabinho, I love him to death, he’s a good guy and he speaks English but he hasn’t perfected it. His interpretation of songs and lyrics is completely different to the actual version!”
Although he played other sports, Maurice’s commitment to the game that would become his profession was such that he started using his left foot when he broke a toe in his right, just so he wouldn’t miss a tournament as a youngster. He thinks back to the days before iPods and when he bought his first ever tape.
“The first one I bought was Blackstreet ‘No Diggity’ and I used to listen to it on cassette. I remember my sister bought their album.”
As discussed, Maurice fancies his vocal skills enough to put together some material with his current teammates, but what if he was to record a cover version of a song with one or more of his past colleagues?
“I would say a couple of teammates I had at Rangers – Sone Aluko and Kyle Bartley. The two of them are really into music but God help them, their voices are struggling!
“We would do Drake and Lloyd ‘A Night Off’ and I would choose Sone and Kyle because they would make my voice stand out for the right reasons!”
Making his debut for the senior team in a friendly with Switzerland in October 2007, Maurice represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics. After the Games in Beijing, his transfer to Rangers was ultimately finalised and although he suffered a torn knee ligament in his first season he went on to win three successive SPL titles (2009, 2010 and 2011).
Adding Scottish League Cups in 2010 and 2011, he played Champions League football during his time in Glasgow, scoring at both ends in a 1-1 group draw with Valencia at Ibrox in October 2010. His standout personal moment however was at home in the Old Firm derby eight months earlier.
Maurice notched 12 goals in 125 games for the Gers but none quite as memorable or dramatic as his 93rd-minute winner to see off bitter rivals Celtic. Madjid Bougherra and Kris Boyd were thwarted by Celtic keeper Artur Boruc but Maurice was there to dispatch the rebound to put Walter Smith’s team ten points clear of their opponents en route to another championship crown.
After four years with the club, he was one of those who departed in 2012 as Rangers entered liquidation and were demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football after being purchased by a new company. Back-to-back promotions have followed and the Gers are now just one more away from a return to what is now the Scottish Premiership.
The memories are positive for Maurice as he looks back on a period in his career that was laden with success.
“I loved my time there. It was unfortunate with the way it ended because it would have been ideal to stay there.
“I got to win trophies, to play in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League, and the fans were unreal. I knew it was a big club but seeing the fans in the city and the amount of support we had in pre-season in Australia just blew me away.
“It’s scary just how many fans the club has. It’s good to see them on their way back up again.”
While matters on the field were going well, Maurice effectively had a new language to learn from teammates and others he met during his time in Scotland! Rangers had other American names in defender Carlos Bocanegra, attacking midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and left-sider DaMarcus Beasley during his years with the club.
The latter of those has had a renaissance for the National Team at left-back in this year’s World Cup and Maurice is eternally grateful to the former Manchester City man for his linguistic assistance when they were in Glasgow!
“Oh my God, I was lost at first. Luckily, I had DaMarcus Beasley there to translate!
“As long as they were speaking to me one-on-one I was fine, but whenever you got a group of them together I just had to sit and smile and laugh along and pretend to understand the conversation!”
Scoring his solitary international goal to date against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field, East Hartford in a May 2010 friendly, Maurice achieved a childhood ambition during the following month. Although he was named in Jurgen Klinsmann’s provisional squad for the 2014 campaign he was among the seven left out of the final cut, but four years previous he got his chance to wear the Stars and Stripes on the biggest stage of all.
With Bob Bradley in charge, he came on for the second half of the group clash with Slovenia and after the U.S. had clawed back a 2-0 deficit he netted what should have proved the winner late on. As he strode forward to get on the end of a free-kick, his goal was bizarrely ruled out despite replays showing he was nowhere near offside and that no foul from the U.S. players had occurred either.
Maurice then started the final group game as Algeria were beaten in the most exciting of circumstances thanks to Landon Donovan’s unforgettable last-gasp winner. He then appeared in the knockout round, replacing Ricardo Clark 31 minutes into the last 16 game with Ghana as the U.S. were narrowly beaten in extra-time in Rustenburg.
The know-how gained from such experiences is now being put to use as Philadelphia, 8th at present in the ten-team Eastern Conference, endeavour to break into the five play-off places. Maurice, who was sent off on 89 minutes in the 2-1 loss at FC Dallas on Independence Day, has been warmly received at the club and he is taking heart from what he has seen since he arrived.
“My impression before I came here was that it’s a real family club and that’s how it’s been so far. Everyone gets along, from the staff to the players and to the fans, and as soon as I got here my teammates welcomed me.
“It’s hard in that situation because you’re looking to come in and take somebody’s spot and it can be awkward, but credit to this group for welcoming me. It helps you be yourself and to play comfortably when you’re among friends.
“It’s a tight-knit group and we have guys who will all fight for each other and stick together.”
Travelling the world with club and country in his career so far, Maurice believes he is currently part of a decidedly unique location as he resides in the city of Philadelphia.
“Some of the places I’ve been to before have been quite different in how modern they’ve been but I like that Philly really preserves its history. It’s a historical city, you’ve got the other sports teams like the Phillies (baseball), the Flyers (ice hockey) and the Eagles (football), and I enjoy showing my friends around here.
“There’s enough to keep you busy, but it’s not too crazy at the same time. I live downtown and there are some great restaurants and places to go bowling for example.”
One of five siblings along with younger brother Reggie and sisters Molly, Imeh and Ugo, Maurice’s mother still wants him to get his business degree! For now, the long-time midfield performer and current defender is continuing to take in all that his career brings him.
Reflecting on the ups and downs of his time in the game up to now, he offers up the advice he would give himself as a youngster if he had the opportunity.
“It’s important to enjoy every moment and my advice to myself as a younger player would have been not to dwell on the highs and the lows. It’s a rollercoaster and it only takes one injury or an extreme situation and it could be like, ‘damn, this is it’.
“You will have moments where you’ll be buzzing. It could be your first cap or the winner in a cup, and it’s important to enjoy it but stay humble and keep a level head to drive you on.
“See the light in the hard times and never take your opportunity for granted because there’s always some kid dying to be in your position.”
I bring each interview to a close on here by asking the player to put together a 5-a-side line-up of the best they have ever worked alongside. With themselves included, they are required to choose four players to join them in this fantasy team and naturally, it is rarely easy for them to overlook certain teammates they have had along the way. It is however a chance to highlight a select few and their respective impact.
Maurice talks me through his team selection and besides his starters he has a very strong group to choose from on the bench!
“My goalkeeper would be Tim Howard – right now I think he’s in the top five in the world. Maybe I’m biased but having seen him in training and games, and with the form he’s shown continuously at Everton, I believe it.
“My team might be dominated by Americans but for my defender I’ll go with Carlos Bocanegra. I grew up in the same neighbourhood as him in California and watched him on TV.
“He then went on to help me with the National Team and at Rangers too. He’s a player I really respect.
“For a midfielder, I’m going to say Steven Davis who I was with at Rangers. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his talents and the passion he has shows through and I saw it on a daily basis for three or four years.
“Up top, I’ll go with Jozy (Altidore). He’s one of my best friends and we broke through into the National Team at the same time when we were young, hungry kids trying to make a name for ourselves.
“I think he’s a tremendous player and it showed with him winning the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year while he was in Holland (with AZ Alkmaar). It was such a shame he got the injury in the first game of this World Cup but he has the world at his feet.
“There would be a few on my bench – Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stu Holden. I’ve known Stu since I was younger and we were on the (2008) Olympic team together.
“He’s very talented and we’ve only really seen a glimpse of that. Before he got his first injury at Bolton he was one of the best in the Premier League for me.
“As a teammate and as a friend it’s difficult to see what he’s been through with injury but he’s working hard now to get back and I have no doubt he will.”
Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes
To catch more of these interviews, like Beats & Rhymes FC on Facebook and keep up-to-date