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."