SEATTLE — Marginalized at Stoke City after returning from a loan in Turkey with a sports hernia, it seemed Maurice Edu's career was waning. He knew he had to get out if he wanted any chance of playing in his second World Cup for the United States.
After some contract wrangling with Major League Soccer, he joined the Philadelphia Union on loan in January. After not playing a minute for Stoke's first team in the first half of the 2013-14 season, Edu has started and played every minute of Philadelphia's 10 games so far, re-emerging as a team leader and one of the league's best central midfielders.
"For me, it wasn't really a decision. It was pretty clear-cut what I wanted to do, and when that opportunity came up, it was easy for me to say I wanted to come back here and play in MLS again for multiple reasons," Edu told SI.com after the Union's 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. "Obviously, the national team is a key thing for me, but just to be part of the league again, especially at this time — it's an exciting time to be part of MLS [with] the progress it's made."
Edu has scored two goals for Philadelphia and created a third Saturday, challenging Brad Evans in the air on a free kick and causing an own goal from the Sounders midfielder. Edu is always around the ball when the Union are in possession, a box-to-box cog in a talented midfield block.
Since rejoining MLS, where he started his career with Toronto FC and won 2007 Rookie of the Year before moving onto the most successful spell of his career with Rangers in Scotland, Edu has regained his reputation as a firm barrier in front of the back line and a savvy distributor.
U.S. head coach Jürgen Klinsmann has noticed, calling Edu in for the team's 2-2 draw with Mexico on April 2.
"We’re looking for Mo to show us that sense of urgency. 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," Klinsmann said in announcing the roster for that friendly. "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."
Edu said the national team coach's frequent edicts rose above all other voices in deciding to return to where his career began.
"He's always emphasized it's important that you're playing with your club, so for me, I knew," Edu said. "When I came back from my injury, and then did everything in my power to get into the [Stoke] team and, for whatever reason, it wasn't happening, I knew straight away I had to get out of there if I wanted to be back with the national team again. It was a no-brainer."
Despite what was by all accounts a solid loan spell at Bursaspor in the Turkish Süper Lig, making 12 starts for the fourth-place finishers, Edu had dropped far off the American soccer radar. He hasn't started for the U.S. since its famous win at Estadio Azteca in 2012, where he played center back for one of the few occasions in his career.
"The fact that I've played a couple different positions, I think it definitely helps my cause. Versatility is important, especially when it comes time to pick the team," Edu said. "You give yourself as much of a chance as possible when you're able to play different positions."
As it has for several players returning from Europe, MLS provided him a chance to be in the spotlight again and find the motivation that is sometimes missing in tough times.
"When this opportunity came up, I saw that as my opportunity to do that: to get back playing regularly, get back to just being me again and get back to enjoying my soccer and playing well again," Edu said.
For the first time since breaking into the 2010 squad, he can shift his focus toward making a push for more national team minutes, knowing that his club place is secure. When Klinsmann announces his 30-man roster for the U.S.'s pre-World Cup camp next week, it would be surprising if Edu's name is not on it. "I feel good. I'm just trying to make sure that I'm as sharp as possible and as fit as possible leading into these next couple weeks," Edu said. "I think I've done everything in my power."