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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mo Edu for the U.S.? Where the Union midfielder might land

The first few steps in Maurice Edu’s quest for a spot on the plane to Brazil this summer have been completed, the latest of which was his strong play through three games with the Union being recognized by Jurgen Klinsmann with a call-up to the U.S. National Team for the April 2 friendly against Mexico.

The call-up announced Wednesday came a year to the day of his last appearance for the Stars and Stripes, a 0-0 draw with Mexico in Estadio Azteca that marked the national team’s first competitive point in that arena against El Tri. Edu's call-up has the potential to be a historical moment in Union history as well.

Union midfielder Maurice Edu, right, competing with Brazilian Sandro
in a May 2012 friendly, will have a chance to state his case
for a spot on the American World Cup squad next week. (AP)

The question to be answered – by the 27-year-old midfielder’s play next week and in the coming months and the myriad variables surrounding the national team – is where Edu’s chances with the national team lie. It’s a query whose answer is anything but simple.

First, we can at least localize what Edu is fighting for. He’s most often been deployed as a No. 6, a holding midfielder, for the U.S., even if his position for the Union is generally more advanced. The bad news for Edu is that this is one of the most stocked eras of talent in U.S. history in that department. Klinsmann has held firm to a 4-5-1 (visualize the midfield as a 4-1-2-2-1), where Edu is in line as the single holding midfield parked in front of defense. At that position, he faces competition from Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, the latter of whom has become one of Klinsmann’s most consistent selections. The notion of Edu supplanting Beckerman seems unlikely.

The composition of the rest of the midfield – Michael Bradley as the No. 8 sitting on the shoulder of No. 10 Clint Dempsey between the lone striker with Graham Zusi and Landon Donovan occupying the wings – seems fairly foolproof. With Beckerman as the No. 6, that figures to be the lineup Klinsmann trots out Wednesday to give his starters a go against Mexico.  (And if so, per SI’s Avi Creditor, it would be the first time Bradley, Dempsey and Donovan started a game together since June 12, 2012.)

The issue for Edu, then, is to distinguish himself as a valuable substitute in what might be an outing of 30-45 minutes. At the very least, he’s on Klinsmann’s mind.

“We’re looking for Mo to show us that sense of urgency,” Klinsmann said in a release by U.S. Soccer. “To come back on loan, get playing time and jump into the Union team, become a leader right away and help them get off on the right foot in MLS shows that he understands that the timing has to be there now if he wants to play. He could have sat there on the bench at Stoke maybe not playing much, and then there’s no chance for him to get on the World Cup roster. But he understood that, made the decision to come back and now he’s picking it up. We’re looking forward to have Mo back with us because once he’s in a rhythm, once he is fit and really zoomed in, then he’s a very good player.”

So then, what lens should we gauge his contributions through? Here are a few suggestions:

How many midfielders make the plane to Brazil?

That question is open to interpretation. The options range from eight to nine, figuring the attacking contingent to be Dempsey plus three strikers. If Klinsmann brings seven defenders, three goalkeepers and three forwards, then he would bring 10 midfielders, including Dempsey. Some of that is as much necessity as philosophy: Center back depth behind the top three of Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson is scarce, and anything more than four fullbacks would be overkill. But given the fact that Geoff Cameron is likely the first-choice right back, his ability to deputize in the center of defense offers another reason not to draw in a fourth center back. Plus fullbacks like DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson are versatile enough to be deployed in midfield if the need arises. 

What does Edu bring that’s different?

There’s a clear difference between Edu and the others competing for that No. 6 role: Edu can play center back. He’s done so several times for club and country – including alongside Cameron in the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico at the Azteca in 2012. When you look at the names that have fallen by the wayside in the last 12 months (Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Ream), getting some utility out of the roster spot that once was earmarked for a veteran center back who would’ve only played in a worst-case scenario might be tempting.

Is Edu suddenly the experienced option?
It’s hard to believe that that could be the case, but the United States will almost certainly retain well under half of the 23 guys who made it to South Africa four years ago. But only eight players – Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, Beasley and Goodson – look likely to make a return trip to the World Cup. Given the recent exclusions of 2010 participants Benny Feilhaber and Jose Torres, being a veteran at age 27 despite a checkered recent past on the club scene could suddenly become an asset for Edu.

How does Julian Green affect Edu?

The answer could be simple. The Bayern Munich youngster who completed his one-time nationality switch from Germany last week has the potential to be the kind of late-in-the-cycle addition that has the allure, if not the actual potential, of shifting the program’s fortunes. A forward by trade, it remains to be seen where he’ll play, whether as an alternative to Altidore or as a winger. It’s pretty apparent that the U.S. has a paucity of options on the wings behind Zusi and Donovan, and 18-year-old could fill that void if he impresses. But if that’s the case, it would likely be at the expense of another wide player, like Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona or Brek Shea, none of whom has done nearly enough to convince Klinsmann of their indispensability. Green could affect Edu’s chances based on who he replaces. For instance, if Green, plus three forwards, plus a winger like Bedoya make it, that’s one less spot for Edu to compete for. If it’s a question of Green or Bedoya, or Green or a forward like Eddie Johnson, then Edu is unaffected.

So, then the ultimate question: With whom is Edu directly competing? 

 Based on everything I’ve seen and a number of other analyses, I’d think of it this way: It’s a 1-2-2 umbrella formation, and you want coverage at each of the five spots (so 10 midfielders). Pencil Jones and Beckerman as the No. 6s. There may only be one palatable alternative for the winger depth behind Zusi and Donovan. (Though if it's not Green, Klinsmann may opt for two bodies to fill the role.) If healthy, there’s little shaking Bradley and Dempsey. Assuming one winger, that is seven midfielders right there, leaving Edu to battle for one or two additional spots. There’s a growing sentiment that one of those players will be Mix Diskerud, for his youth and change of pace, and it could be an either-or proposition between he and Sasha Klejstan as a creative, central-operating sub. If that’s the case, then the final spot could be contested by a host of players, like Edu, Danny Williams (who’s in good form for Reading in the English League Championship), Torres (and his strong left foot) and Feilhaber (who brings many of the same midfield qualities as Edu). That's a slim opening and a big onus on Edu. But it's more than many though he'd have a few months ago.

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