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Fast track to stardom (pt. 3)

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 says he models his game after Ireland's Roy Keane and France's Patrick Vieira, two legends of the central midfield position.
Edu says he models his game after Ireland's Roy Keane and France's Patrick Vieira, two legends of the central midfield position.

Edu's consistency and durability provided some stability for Toronto, which used more than 30 field players in its expansion season. Seldom did Johnston (who served as head coach last season) have his ideal lineup healthy and available. Yet the raucous fans at BMO Field soon enough saw the talent and athleticism that prompted Johnston to take him with the No. 1 pick.

He scored in the franchise's inaugural win, a 3-1 defeat of Chicago, and ended the season with four goals. Only captain Jim Brennan and midfielder partner Carl Robinson played more minutes than Edu (2,180), whose energy and enthusiasm sometimes spurred him into committing fouls (65) or taking cards (six yellow, one red).

While coaching the former MetroStars, Johnston selected Wynne No. 1 in the '06 SuperDraft and predicted he'd be Rookie of the Year. A year later with TFC, Johnston again had first dibs and this time both the pick and his prediction hit the mark.

"I might have gone into a situation where I didn't get much of a chance to play," says Edu, who missed the first two games while recovering from offseason pelvic surgery. "It's always a hard thing to come out as a rookie and do well. There's a lot of pressure on you being the No. 1 pick, but I think I was fortunate with the situation I landed in."

Johnston had laden his roster with experience honed overseas. Brennan, Robinson, Danny Dichio, Collin Samuel and Chris Pozniak brought talents honed in Europe to MLS. Perhaps he thought Edu could be a versatile fill-in while the rookie found his feet in the professional game.

"He's a good passer, he can play on the right, he can play in the middle, he can play on the left, whatever you tell him," said Johnston after taking him as the first pick. "He could play right back. He can play soccer and he's a clever kid. He has that No. 1 target on his back and he'll handle that easily."

TFC's ever-changing lineups seldom featured the same 11 players but once he recovered from the surgery, Edu usually claimed a central midfield spot and quickly drew notice for his decisive tackling and offensive instincts. A wild, flying body-block of Houston's Brian Mullan earned him a red card in mid-July, yet that high foul count is more a product of inexperience than indiscipline or ineptitude.

"What I noticed in the camp is that he's very light on his feet, he's intelligent, he understands what it's going to take earn a place," said former Fire head coach Dave Sarachan, who helped Bob Bradley prepare the U.S. team to face Sweden. "I thought he had a very good camp and he's on the right track. He's got some subtlety to him."

That subtlety and his rather late maturity physically may be why his first appearance for his country came against Switzerland. Never was Edu invited to the U-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla., or called into a U-20 training camp.

"I like to look at it as a small victory for college soccer," says Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski, who first saw Edu as a teen -- "about 5-foot-8, maybe 135 pounds" -- playing club ball for Pateadores and head coach Mike Gartlan. "Here's a kid who never played on any youth national team. That's a Jonathan Bornstein-type story.

"He was kind of a smaller kid who grew and developed. He was a very good two-way player but was looked at more as a wide midfielder or attacking midfielder. His father had a heart attack the summer before his senior [high school] season, and in the recruiting process Mo was fairly unresponsive. I think his focus at that point was family and his father. He didn't want to be rushed into a decision.

"The first thing you notice about Maurice is he looks you straight in the eye. He can recognize the substance of the information. He's a very sharp, shrewd kid, and yet he's very, very humble."

That focus and humility played well in the TFC locker room and on the training field. Experienced pros like Robinson quickly acknowledged his talent and attitude. Edu listened and learned and honed his game. He lost more games (17) in that one season than he had in three years with the Terrapins, who won the '05 national title and compiled a record of 52-15-7 while he was there.

"I learned a lot from Carl Robinson," says Edu of the English League veteran he often played alongside in the middle. "He's got a lot of knowledge and experience in the game. He's constantly coaching me on and off the pitch, giving me little pointers, helping me grow and helping me reach the next level.

"At the beginning of last season I had goals and one of those goals was being called to the national team. But I never thought it would happen so soon. I thought maybe I get called to the 23s and hopefully do well there, and that might lead to a call-up. But I was lucky enough to get called into camp for the Switzerland game.

"Going into next season I'm definitely looking to score more goals but also get more assists: I only had one this past season. I'm definitely happy about how the year went for me. I want to continue that and enjoy some more success this season."

This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine. Click here for a free three-month subscription.

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