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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Edu's bad breaks the outlier for the Union's healthy season

Maurice Edu, seen in last year's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Chicago,
was dealt a difficult hand of injuries this season, but he's the outlier
for a mostly healthy Union squad. (Times File)
Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin covered a bevy of topics Wednesday in their end-of-season media address. From specific personnel groups to philosophy on changes to a vote of confidence on Curtin from Stewart, the full range was covered.

But one particularly perplexing aspect of the Union’s season didn’t quite receive a definitive answer, and perhaps that’s because one doesn’t exist.

The travails of Maurice Edu have been a constant story line dogging the Union this season. His injury has followed a devastating trajectory, from a groin tear last year to sports hernia surgery in the offseason to a stress fracture to a more severe leg fracture. Somewhere along the line – perhaps at many junctures – reality deviated from the rigorous plan that the Union set for Edu’s rehab. So the question, more genuinely curious than accusatory, from me Wednesday was, does the handling of his injury by the staff require any reevaluation?

Stewart’s answer in full:
“Oh, yeah, also that, except that it’s, like you say, it goes from one into the other, and a lot of times you see that. If you have an injury left, you favor something else right and that might happen. I’d have to say a lot of things are very, very unfortunate, too, in the way that it went from, one, having a surgery, to it going into a stress fracture — a stress reaction first, and then a stress fracture. I mean, that has a lot to do with favoring and all that kind of stuff so it’s very unfortunate, his season is.”
That answer would seem to shift the reasoning – not blame, per se – for the injury onto the circumstances surrounding it. Edu had never before dealt with bone injuries, and he’d discussed that the process for rehabbing them is different that with muscle problems. By all accounts, the re-injury before the Red Bulls game in the season finale was a fluke on the training ground. How the original stress fracture was sustained has never been discussed beyond that Edu wasn’t progressing in his rehab in the preseason then got a scan showing the fracture that drastically altered estimates of his return.

The timeline set then, at the beginning of March, called for three to four months. Edu returned to the practice field four and a half months later, on July 15, and played for Bethlehem Steel for the first time Sept. 4 (six months after the original diagnosis). Edu made the Union bench for the first of three times Sept. 24.

Understandably, the Union aren’t placing a timeline on this latest injury. But the club also isn’t providing much explanation for the protracted saga beyond bad luck.
“Yeah, it’s just about as unfortunate a season as you could possibly have,” Curtin said. “Going even to rewinding back to the Open Cup right after we played the final, we thought it was just a groin; quick healing, month or two that he’d miss. That led to the stress fracture in the leg, a lot longer rehab that he attacked as best he could and as aggressively as he could.

“Our staff did everything they could to get him back quickly. And then to have the freak breaking of the leg when he was so excited to be back with the group against Red Bull? I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest.”

You can grant Curtin and Stewart the incredulity on Edu, and perhaps there’s no underlying failure on the training side. Let’s instead look at it this way: The Union last year were beset by injuries everywhere on the roster. In 2015, 21 players missed a total of 112 man games, including a bevy of nagging muscle and soft-tissue injuries that in part contributed to a rethink in the training department this year on top of the sports science improvements spurred by Stewart. So did that change things?

Yes, and markedly so. If you exclude Edu’s prolonged absence, just 10 players missed 34 games with injuries. Even with Edu, the total rises to just 65 (Edu made the bench twice and was healthy once when not selected, for a total of 31 games out). That’s a 42 percent reduction from last year.

More important, few of those injuries were of the soft-tissue variety – really the only ones were to Ilsinho, who missed eight games, five with hamstring/quad problems. CJ Sapong, Vincent Nogueira and Ken Tribbett had ankle issues, Anderson and Josh Yaro had shoulder problems, Yaro and Sebastien Le Toux suffered concussions. Fabian Herbers had a hamstring issue, a rare soft-tissue complaint.

The most nettlesome problem through the season was plantar fasciitis, afflicting Brian Carroll and Ilsinho. Other issues, like Tranquillo Barnetta’s balky knees, preexisted, leaving the training staff to mitigate the losses to the four games the Swiss midfielder missed. Alejandro Bedoya and Warren Creavalle played through rib injuries late in the season, at least partially attributable to the training staff's ability to get them ready and fit enough to go.

All those efforts contributed to the Union more consistently getting their chose players on the field in 2016. Whatever went wrong in handling Edu’s injury, then, appears to either be a genuine anomaly or the outlier when compared to other players.

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