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Fast track to stardom (cont.)

Posted: Monday February 25, 2008 10:57AM; Updated: Monday February 25, 2008 10:57AM
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By Ridge Mahoney, Special to SI.com, Soccer America

Edu (right) was one of the bright spots during a difficult first season last year for expansion team Toronto FC.
Edu (right) was one of the bright spots during a difficult first season last year for expansion team Toronto FC.

Much of the sorting and shuffling U.S. coach Bob Bradley must do is with the abilities and characteristics of his central midfielders. Will they equally share offensive and defensive responsibilities? Will one primarily hold and the other push forward to prompt attacks?

Which are best suited to a three-man midfield if a winger is added up front? Who can hold the ball under pressure, or play balls quickly to trigger attacks, or break up plays with tenacious tracking and tackling?

In his first two matches in Switzerland and South Africa last fall, Edu played in the middle alongside Michael Bradley, a rugged two-way player, with attack-minded Feilhaber on the right side and DaMarcus Beasley on the left.

Against Sweden, Edu and Clark formed a very different central partnership, with Clark's quickness and range balancing Edu's knack for getting the ball forward whenever possible. Landon Donovan often pushed up high on the right flank, leaving Edu, Clark and Brad Davis to handle midfield duties.

"His decision-making out of midfield and the timing of his runs, he's always looking forward," says U.S. defender Jimmy Conrad, who played against Edu in MLS last season. "It's something we need to address as a country. It's nice to have a defensive midfielder who's looking to play a little bit. [Arsenal's Cesc] FÓbregas is a good example. He sits and holds but he also makes good, well-timed runs, and I think that impresses me most about Mo, his ability to pick his spots.

"He's young and he's still trying to feel his way and get comfortable in the system, but I think he's done a great job so far."

Less than 90 seconds into his debut against Switzerland, Edu followed up a Feilhaber run and drilled a left-footed shot a yard wide of the post from about 25 yards. He lofted a perfect chip up the left wing for Beasley, and acrobatically volleyed a precise ball that Carlos Bocanegra redirected right to the goalkeeper. With four minutes left, Edu pounced on a loose ball to start the goalmouth scramble Bradley polished off by scoring from close range.

South Africa fell, 1-0, on a Steve Cherundolo goal set up by a slick ball Edu played right into his path.

"As far as the goal, there was room behind the South African defense so I saw the opportunity to make a run," said Cherundolo after that match. "Maurice Edu played a great ball in and we are able to expose them."

Aside from a few early balls played out to the flanks, Edu played more as a holding midfielder against Sweden and let Donovan run the attack. The two central midfielders he most admired and often watched in the English Premier League when Manchester United squared off against Arsenal gave him very high standards to achieve.

"I tried to pick up from guys like Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, guys who were dominant in that position," says Edu. "I tried to emulate parts of their game and add a little bit of my own personality to the game as well. Ultimately, you want to be a complete player, so I shoot for that and just try to be consistent."

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