Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maurice Edu, where are you?

This was supposed to be the year that Maurice Edu asserted himself as one America’s top young players. With some European clubs circling like vultures, waiting to snatch up the midfielder at the end of last season, it looked like Maurice Edu’s career in North America was going to be short-lived. He had just come off a season capped by a rookie-of-the-year award, a season in which he was a rare bright spot on an otherwise dark Toronto squad. Edu consistently put in solid performances for the Reds, showing his versatility with his defensive and offensive game throughout the season. However, we are now five games into the 2008 season, and I find myself asking one question.

Maurice Edu, where are you?

There’s no denying that Edu has talent, but the Maurice Edu we have seen early on this season is simply not good enough. Yes, we all saw Edu’s fantastic looping header over Zach Wells. It was definitely a touch of excellence from the young American. However, the DC game was lost in the first five minutes, and Edu’s header, which snuck in just before the final whistle, was meaningless. Before that, as in Columbus, Edu was not on his game.

In both Columbus and Washington, Edu was surrounded by an ineffective team that could barely push the ball up the field without losing possession. It was a tough situation for the talented American, who most likely believed he would yet again have the team on his shoulders this season.

In 2007, Edu had carried the team on his shoulders; he was the heart of a Toronto midfield in the absence of Ronnie O’Brien. Edu controlled the middle of the pitch with his ability to track back, and then quickly push up field to become an attacking midfielder, allowing him to score four goals for the club. He was an integral part of both the offensive and defensive sides of TFC’s strategy, and this flexibility was what intrigued so many fans, coaches and clubs, with Edu receiving high praise around the league. A considerable amount of respect came from opposing teams; invitations arrived to train with Aston Villa, he was voted rookie of the year, and a cap with the United States Men’s National Team went in the books. In 2008, this version of Edu has yet to show up on the pitch for Toronto FC, and the rest of the team has clearly improved since the team’s dreadful start, while Edu has not.

In the season opener, Edu looked overwhelmed at times. He was seen by the corner flag, at the top of the box, and by his own goal; he looked lost. With the ball at his feet, he often tried to do too much, and was dispossessed easily. He was no worse than the rest of the squad. However, this was supposed to be Edu’s team, and when the final whistle blew in Columbus, Edu had done little to help Toronto’s cause. In TFC’s third game, on the west coast against Los Angeles, Edu had another average performance. He did nothing detrimental to the team, but the stand-out player we routinely watched last season was no longer there. Again, Edu looked lost at times, unsure of what role he was supposed to play. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Help, in the form of multiple additions to the midfield, had arrived for Edu. Logically, one would have expected improvement in Edu over the coming weeks.

In TFC’s first two games at home, Edu has continued to be average. It’s possible to forget he’s playing, as he disappears for large chunks of the game. He will, at times, provide a pin-point cross, or make a winding run towards goal, but these moments are infrequent. It’s difficult to understand exactly why this happens with Edu. He is surrounded by one of the best, if not the best, midfields in the league. He has a plethora of space down the middle, which when combined with this ability on the ball and overall skill level, should equal solid performances game-in and game-out. Unfortunately, this just has not been the case for Edu, as the momentary flashes of brilliance are quickly forgotten when Edu again becomes the invisible man. Against Kansas City, Edu put in a poor performance, rarely making a contribution to the team. He seems to have trouble linking with his teammates, and he looks lost roaming the middle of the pitch. Edu seems stuck between the two roles he played last season, trying to make a contribution at both ends of the pitch, but not succeeding at either. It’s tough to watch.

So why has Edu struggled in the early part of this season? Were we expecting far too much from the midfielder, still in only his second season? Or has Edu fallen into the ever deadly sophomore slump, which has trapped so many athletes before? It’s hard to say. Edu has not been horrible, let’s make that clear. However, I think we can all agree that Maurice Edu has not been himself. The reigning rookie-of-the-year still has a great future ahead of him, but at this point Edu looks far from the type of player expected to abandon ship for a career overseas. We’re all expecting more, and given his talent, our expectations are not unreasonable, but when will we see the return of the Maurice Edu that we know and love?

Wonderful Welshman
Edu’s partner, Carl Robinson, put in an absolutely fantastic performance against Kansas City yesterday. The Welshman, who will finally not be played out of position, has been fantastic since Mo Johnston added to the midfield. As a defensive midfielder, Robinson has done an incredible job in almost every aspect of his game, controlling the play from the back. His distribution was topnotch against KC, acting as a bridge between the back line and the midfield, while his tackling was done with precision. He never wandered up front like he so often had early on in the season, thanks to the fact that Robinson can play his favoured position. He has been nothing short of extraordinary recently, and these quality performances will go a long way in sending TFC straight into the playoffs.

Match Ratings – Starting XI
Greg Sutton – 10 – If you have a clean sheet, you get a 10 from me.

Marvell Wynne – 9 – Wynne was fantastic yesterday, tracking back and making multiple incredible tackles, while also making a significant impact offensively with his pace.

Tyrone Marshall – 8.5 – When a defender is invisible for most of the game, he’s done a good job. He was solid yet again for TFC

Marco Velez – 7 - The passionate defender is improving every game while he adjusts to the level of play in this league. He made a couple of mistakes at the back, but he played a solid game for the Reds at the back.

Jimmy Brennan – 8 - I thought he did a good job on the left side, while also collapsing into the middle when support was needed. It was a smart and clean game from Brennan.

Laurent Robert – 7 – People have to understand that Robert is not going to make winding runs like Ricketts of Guevara. His contribution will come through controlling the pace of play, off set pieces, and delivering accurate crosses into the box. He was okay against Kansas City.

Maurice Edu – 6 - I barely noticed him

Rohan Ricketts – 8 – delivered a few beautiful balls in, and was very dangerous for much of the game. His ability to run at defenders and switch feet (as he said before when I talked to him) gives him an extra string on the ball, making him a handful for defenders.

Amado Guevara – 9 – Fantastic performance scoring two goals for TFC, very dangerous with the ball at his feet.

Carl Robinson – 9.5 – My man of the match, fantastic performance.

Danny Dichio – 6.5 – I thought it did a poor job of controlling the play up front, and had trouble linking up with Guevara. Toronto needs to sit Dichio, and bring in a player with pace up front. There were multiple opportunities where a quick footed player would have capitalized on balls that were sent up front.

1 comment:

Soccer City FC said...

I enjoyed the piece. Hopefully he will find his place in this new TFC midfield.