WORLD CUP EXPERIENCE FUELING EDU
United States and Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu says he is eager to start preseason training with the Glasgow club after featuring prominently for the US national team at last month's World Cup.
Edu played in three of the US matches in South Africa including a start in the last group stage match versus Algeria.
He says that the reception of being back home after the US' run has been a positive one, but not advancing further in the tournament remains bittersweet.
"It's been really good being back home and seeing the reaction from the country," Edu recently told YA. "We got to go to the ESPY's where [the USMNT] won an award so I think the World Cup for soccer in the US was good and it made some progress so we're proud of that. But at the same time, we felt like we could have won the Ghana match and made it further so that was disappointing."
The Fontana, California native was called on by head coach Bob Bradley to replace Jose Torres at halftime of the US' second group stage match versus Slovenia with the team trailing 2-0.
Edu helped generate a comeback that saw the US score two second half goals only to see a third goal scored by Edu be disallowed by the referee for a supposed foul in the penalty area.
While it was disappointing to see his game-winner against Slovenia not count, Edu believes his play in the three matches was solid but that there is still room for improvement.
"I thought it went well overall," continued Edu. "The circumstances when I came into the Slovenia match were that I had no time to ease into things so I was immediately trying to add some life and a spark to the squad. I still could have done better but I'm pretty happy with it overall."
Many US fans were surprised to see Bradley give the starting nod to fellow midfielder Ricardo Clark instead of Edu for the Round of 16 match versus Ghana. Edu would come on for Clark in just the 30th minute after the Eintracht Frankfurt man received an early first half yellow card.
When pressed as to whether or not he was personally surprised to be excluded from that match's starting eleven after starting the Algeria match, Edu contends that every player should be prepared for any situation and that decisions on who starts and who does not are out of his hands.
"I don't know if I was surprised or anything because you never know who will be starting," explained Edu. "I just try to be prepared for any situation or any outcome. The head coach makes the decision. Bob had given me a heads up before the game that he was unsure of who might play but added that I should be ready at a moment's notice."
It is still uncertain if Bradley will stay on as US coach for the next World Cup cycle. Some rumors have Bradley plying his trade with English Premier League club Fulham while others tend to believe US Soccer will bring back the former MLS coach for another four year term.
For Edu, the main thing that stands out about Bradley is that he was able to achieve results in his first four years as US coach.
"The one thing that stands out about Bob is results. He always got results and the bottom line is winning," Edu said of the US head man. "He brought out the best in us and got good results at the World Cup, the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup. It's up to him if he wants to stay on but you really can't argue with the results he's gotten."
Since the loss to Ghana, the former Maryland standout has spent the last four weeks back home in his native California enjoying some rest and relaxation before boarding another long flight to join his club team in Australia for preseason training.
Any thoughts of possible burnout following an emotional tournament like the World Cup have not even entered the mind of Edu who is chomping at the bit to rejoin his Rangers teammates as they prepare for the upcoming Scottish Premier League season and UEFA Champions League campaign.
"I always would love to rest a little more but I am really excited to get back to training and earn a starting spot as soon as possible," he said of the preseason. "This is a big year for me since I was hurt a good part of the year last year and missed out on the Champions League… It's funny, this is actually my first full preseason at Rangers because I was at the Olympics my first year before joining the club and then last year I had the injury, so I'm eager to get started."
Unlike last season where the Rangers roster went virtually unchanged from the previous season, this summer has seen six notable players depart the Glasgow club including compatriot DaMarcus Beasley, SPL-leading goal scorer Kris Boyd, stalwarts Kevin Thomson, Nacho Novo, Steven Smith and young star Danny Wilson who just completed a move to Liverpool.
The absence of those players has oddsmakers pegging that a third consecutive SPL title may not be in the cards for Rangers, but Edu believes that the young talent in the club's stables along with the wisdom of legendary head coach Walter Smith gives the 53-time Scottish champions as good a chance as any to take home more medals.
"We have a lot of trust in Walter and ourselves and if you don't have that then you have no chance at success," noted Edu. "We are able find ways to overcome different situations so hopefully we can get a couple new players before the transfer window closes. With a thinner roster, it will also give our younger guys a chance to step up so more players will have an opportunity for more minutes."
A player now in his third season in Scotland, Edu's voice has become the one of a veteran that will likely be impressionable on younger players. Still just 24 years old, the former Toronto FC man says he prefers to lead by example but that anyone wearing a Rangers jersey has an opportunity to assert himself as a leader within the squad.
"Everyone can be a leader," he discussed. "For me, I like to lead by example and let my play speak for itself but any player on this team can be a leader with how hard they work in training and in matches."
There is no doubt that the World Cup holds the upmost respect and meaning for Edu, but close behind sits the Champions League which he was forced to miss last fall due to the knee injury he suffered in May of 2009. Rangers failed to advance out of the group stage as Edu could only watch in frustration from the crowd.
For Edu, now having the opportunity to get a crack at one of the giants of Europe has all the makings of another dramatic moment that the Old Firm hero always seems to thrive in.
"No doubt that the World Cup is tops for me considering it's every four years and there are no guarantees about who makes the squad but the Champions League is a close second," he said of Europe's greatest club competition. "It was disappointing to not play in the Champions League last year. The hardest part is watching while being injured knowing you can't be out there helping the team."
The draw for the group stage will not take place until next month but it can be expected that Rangers will likely be grouped in with one of England, Italy, Germany or Spain's top clubs.
No matter the opponent, Edu is ready to lace up against some of the best of Europe and help Rangers earn some redemption after last season's disappointing Champions League performance.
"Just the experience of going up against the big teams like Arsenal, Barcelona, Milan or Bayern Munich would be unbelievable," he concluded. "I couldn't be more excited."
Edu and Rangers begin their 2010-2011 season on August 14th when they host Kilmarnock.