After lost 2016, Union captain Maurice Edu eager to get back on field

After lost 2016, Union captain Maurice Edu eager to get back on field

CHESTER, Pa. — Maurice Edu still can't believe the brutal timing of it all.

After waiting patiently the entire year to return from a stress fracture, the Philadelphia Union captain was set to make his 2016 season debut in late October vs. the New York Red Bulls, just before the club's first playoff appearance in five years.

But then he suffered what he called "a freak accident" in practice, snapping his left fibula and damaging his ankle while planting his foot, which officially ended his season without any appearances.

So after an entirely lost 2016, it was only natural that the midfielder was immediately asked how he's feeling heading into the 2017 campaign.

"I knew that was coming, right?" Edu said Tuesday, following the team's first practice of the preseason. "You guys are probably tired of hearing the same answer and the same story. I'm just taking it day by day, recovering. ... It's just a gradual progression with the obvious mindset of getting on the field as fast as possible."

Edu said he had surgery in early November and was on crutches and in a walking boot for about the next six weeks. But he's felt better since then, and Union head coach Jim Curtin hopes the veteran midfielder is cleared to run by early February while the team is in Florida for preseason camp.

At the same time, Curtin admitted he was wary of putting a timetable on it after last year's saga when Edu was initially expected to return early in the season before being diagnosed with a stress fracture that was supposed to keep him out for an estimated 3 to 4 months. Then, even after returning to practice in July and making several rehab appearances with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, Edu was kept out of the lineup for a couple more months before suffering his second major injury.

"I hate putting timelines on it but ... it's not too far off," Curtin said. "He's been progressing well. All things are positive but, at the same time, we have to be smart how we manage it. It's a completely separate fracture from the previous one."

While injured last year, Edu took on a different role, trying to still be the leader of the locker room and encourage other players. But having been sidelined since the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final, he's eager to get back on the field with those teammates and play alongside Alejandro Bedoya, Philly's prized pickup last summer, for the first time in what could potentially be a dynamic midfield.

But Edu also doesn't want to be "too eager," as he says he was at times during his recovery last year — a lesson he'll take with him into the 2017 season.

"For whatever reason, it just wasn't meant to be [last year]," Edu said. "So I'm just trying to come in here with a clean mindset and not dwell on what happened last season, not let that impact me now in terms of how I'm going about my rehab and the things I'm doing.

"I can't dwell on it, can't feel sorry for myself. I've just gotta put my head down and get to work again."

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

USA Today Images

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

USA Today Images

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire


BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Nemanja Nikolic scored two of his three goals in the second half, increasing his league-leading total to 24, and the Chicago Fire rallied for a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The Fire (16-10-7) moved into third in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a home game in the playoffs. Nikolic is four goals clear of his pursuers for the Golden Boot with one game to play.

Nikolic opened the scoring in the third minute, getting to a long feed from Brandon Vincent and aided by a bad angle by defender Jack Elliot before beating Andre Blake. Nikolic's penalty kick in the 64th tied it at 2 after David Accam was taken down in the penalty area. Nikolic completed his first career hat trick with an easy finish from the middle of the box on a feed from Brandon Vincent for the game winner in the 78th.

Chicago defender Johnan Kappelhof's own goal put the Union in a 1-1 tie at the six-minute mark and a feed from Haris Medunjanin to Alejandro Bedoya for a chip shot was good for the lead from the 13th minute.

Philadelphia (10-14-9) finished 1-10-6 on the road this season.