Edu's game growing at Rangers
Maurice Edu has scored his fair share of crucial goals. He's also had one
This time, the referee kept his whistle silent and pointed to the center circle, validating the American midfielder's monumental strike.
Edu's goal in second-half stoppage time of Rangers FC's UEFA Europa League second-leg knockout match with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday put Rangers through to the competition's Round of 16 in dramatic fashion and further etched his name among the clutch American goal scorers in Europe.
With Sporting going ahead a goal on aggregate after an 83rd-minute tally and the home crowd prematurely celebrating victory, Rangers didn't wilt, and Edu came through.
"It still felt like we were in the game," Edu told SI.com. "We kept pushing on. We were still hopeful and still believing in ourselves. It's just a credit to the determination and desire we had to stay in that competition."
Rangers pushed forward into the attacking third, and when David Healy whipped in a cross from the right toward the goal mouth, three unmarked Rangers players were in position to score the decisive away goal.
Edu was the first to get a touch on the cross, sliding and tapping the ball into the back of the net. The goal kept Rangers' European dreams alive, much like Clint Dempsey's wonder-chip against Juventus did for Fulham last season.
"We knew we had to get a goal to get back in the game and advance," Edu said. "We were trying to push forward, and that was kind of reflected by how many bodies we had in the box ready to put that goal in. It was a crazy experience, especially coming that late in the game, but it makes it that much sweeter."
The last 12 months have yielded some major moments for Edu. Late last February, he scored a 90th-minute game-winner against rival Celtic that helped Rangers maintain a stronghold at the top of the Scottish Premier League table. This season he not only put his team through to the next knockout round of the Europa League, but he also became the first American to score in the UEFA Champions League since DaMarcus Beasley did in 2007 with his goal against Valencia in October.
"It's definitely up there [among my top moments]," Edu said of Thursday's goal. "If we go on to do really well in this tournament, it's something that I can look back on and really appreciate that I played a part and was able to help the team out. The Celtic goal is up there for obvious reasons. It was a game that helped us win a championship. I can obviously reflect on that and know I played a part, so hopefully this will be similar situation."
Sandwiched between all of those other moments is his would-be match-winner for the United States against Slovenia during the World Cup that was disallowed by referee Koman Coulibaly for a yet-to-be-explained reason.
"I don't think there is an explanation for it to be honest," Edu said. "After the World Cup, I watched video of that game over and over, just trying to figure out what went wrong. Just like everyone who's seen the video, there wasn't anything wrong on our part. If anything there could've been a couple of fouls called on their players. I look back and thought, 'Man, I could've had it,' but you move on, and hopefully I have another opportunity in the future."
Opportunities for Edu with the national team should be aplenty over the next few months as the United States prepares for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Edu figures to be a lock for this summer's roster, though his role on the team is still undetermined, especially with other players like Stuart Holden, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley vying for starting jobs at central midfield.
For Rangers, Edu has thrived as a box-to-box contributor. Internationally, though, he has been confined to more of a holding role -- and even some center back -- by U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
"People label me as a defensive midfielder, but I've always seen myself as more of a box-to-box type player," Edu said. "I have the ability to break up plays, but I like to get forward. This season especially, my manager here [Walter Smith] has encouraged me to try to get forward.
"[Center back] is a new position for me, and it's something that over my career I haven't spent too much time playing there. I'm more comfortable and can contribute more in the midfield. I've played midfield my whole career, and I know what I'm capable of doing, and I know what I can bring to the team from that position, whereas playing in the back is kind of a fairly new position to me and is still kind of a learning process.
"It's one of those things where I want to play for the national team, so if playing in the back is where I'm going to be playing at different times, then I'll obviously try to help the team out as much as I can."
There will be more opportunities for Edu to add to his big-game tally with Rangers this season as well. Rangers trails Celtic by five points in the league table but has eight games remaining, two of those in hand. The Old Firm rivals also have a date scheduled for Wednesday with a spot in the Scottish Cup quarterfinals on the line and a match in the League Cup final on March 20. Mixed in with that is the club's Europa League final 16 tie with Dutch power PSV Eindhoven, with away and home legs slated for March 10 and 17, respectively.
"PSV's a good side," Edu said. "It's another club that has a lot of history. It'll be a tough task, but we match up with them fairly well."
In addition to Edu and his heroics, here is how the rest of the Americans playing abroad -- including goal-scorer Edson Buddle -- fared over the past week (statistics encompass all competitions):