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Season review: Reevaluating the Maurice Edu Trade

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

No transactions were made with more fanfare for the Philadelphia Union last off-season than the pair of moves which put Maurice Edu in the blue and gold.

At the same time that Toronto FC was finishing a splashy transfer for Michael Bradley, the Union pursued a USMNT midfielder of their own. In order to claim Edu’s MLS rights though, the club needed to acquire the first spot in the allocation order.

(Why Toronto didn’t need to make a similar move is a question left to some higher legal authority that can adequately parse the MLS rulebook. I think it’s harder than your average bar exam question, largely since they often make the rules up as they go along.)

So a swap was orchestrated with DC United, as the Union sent local boy Jeff Parke — after one solid season with the club — down I-95, returning the coveted spot in the allocation order and young defender Ethan White. Within weeks, Edu was in the fold, and anticipation for the upcoming season reached a fever pitch. The trade seemed like a surefire winner for Philadelphia.

But as we hit the 2014 off-season, it’s worth reflecting on a move which had a number of knock-on effects for everyone involved.

Jeff Parke: A season To forget

First, the player the Union gave up.

Parke arrived with some fanfare in the 2013 offseason, hailed as a local boy coming home to strengthen the back line, and he played there most of the year alongside Amobi Okugo. His performances ranged from “adequate” to “quite good,” but never quite hitting the prime form fans expected. It was somewhat surprising to see him leave town and even more so for the Union to declare “personal reasons” as a reason for his departure.

Parke suffered through an unhappy season with DC United, missing much of the second half of the season with vertigo and migraine headaches. The defender did not make an appearance after May 31, and United unsurprisingly announced on Monday that they would decline to retain Parke moving forward.

Given Parke’s sudden decline and advancing age, in retrospect the Union may have moved him at exactly the right time.

Ethan White and the doghouse

Trading Park created a gap along the back line, and then-manager John Hackworth did not see the newly acquired Ethan White as the person to fill Parke’s place. Indeed, Hackworth moved allocation money to pick up Austin Berry, then played Aaron Wheeler and Sheanon Williams out of position rather than work White into the starting lineup. These decisions have been analyzed within an inch of their life; suffice to say that they remain baffling even to this day.

Credit White for continuing to work hard, even when all hope seemed lost. Upon taking over, Jim Curtin gave White lots of playing time through the summer, pairing the youngster with Maurice Edu and later Carlos Valdes. White’s performances were consistently erratic. He was aggressive in the tackle and often neutralized opposing strikers, but his positioning could be suspect and his distribution was even more so.

Youthful mistakes aside, White demonstrated his talent and perseverance over the course of the year. At only 24 years old, he has room to grow and develop — particularly if paired with either of Valdes and Edu, two experienced center backs. He will likely be a major piece of the 2015 campaign.

Even if the trade with D.C. hadn’t included Edu at all, I think the Union unquestionably won the deal — a verdict that few would have expected in January.

The polarizing Maurice Edu

Here are two paragraphs you could write about the U.S. international’s acquisition.

  1. The Union picked up a dominant midfielder from a bad situation at Stoke City (club motto: “We hate playing football”), paying about 10 percent of what Michael Bradley would have cost. Edu was the quintessential ambassador for both the club and the league — I loved his “Mic’ed Up” and #throughglass segments — while often playing at an All-Star level. Despite being shuttled between defense and midfield and often being played uncomfortably next to Brian Carroll, Edu showcased his impressive athleticism and soccer intelligence in every game. He even scored the only goal in the U.S. Open Cup Final! Edu is a franchise building-block, and the Union are lucky to have a player of his talent and versatility.
  2. The Union picked up a midfielder who couldn’t break through at Stoke City (motto: “If you can kick a ball, You’re in the 18”) and paid way more than what it would have cost to bring in Michael Parkhurst. Edu seemed more focused on his appearance off the field than his play on it, sometimes appearing lackadaisical or disengaged. He didn’t mesh well in the midfield, struggling to adapt to the players around him, and pushed Amobi Okugo out of the club’s plans altogether. And Edu isn’t even under a long-term contract! Stoke still owns his rights, and the Union might lose both him and Okugo in one off-season. Okugo is a franchise building block, and bringing in the older Edu destroyed his future with Philadelphia.

It would be easier for me to take one of these strong takes and defend it stridently.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

Edu’s season had its good moments and bad, and there was unquestionably an opportunity cost that came with acquiring him.

On balance, I lean toward the first view. When it comes down to it, Edu is one of the two best players on the team, and he was a rock in a season full of turnover. The Union were substantially better with Edu on the team then they would have been if he hadn’t.

But the full verdict on Maurice Edu in Union blue cannot be handed down yet. For the future is where we will spend the rest of our lives, and until we see how Edu’s tenure with the team continues, it will be impossible to fully judge the impact his acquisition has had on the Union franchise.

For now, it remains an unfinished story.

8 Comments

  1. I always viewed Edu as the best player the Union could afford to lose.He is undeniably talented but I rarely saw him impose himself on the game or make himself indispensable.

    • He frequently played lackadaisically (wow that is actually spelled correctly). It looked like he didn’t particularly care what was happening and he would have no urgency or command of the game. Then randomly you’d see him do something that required ridiculous amounts skill and athleticism. Then he would disappear for the rest of the game. I really don’t get it.

      • Careful, there are some among our ranks who consider Edu a great player. Don’t worry, I’m not one of them.
        .
        And now, there is plenty of room for him as the holding midfielder for this team, the position he has made a career at playing and I will not at all be surprised to see him playing as a CB….
        .
        cause its a Guessing Game.

  2. Peter in rereading your article I am curious about, “The Union were substantially better with Edu on the team than without him.”
    .
    Just for arguments sake, what was substantially better? Without Edu they finish 8th,9th,10th in your opinion?
    .
    My take on Maurice Edu is a player of his pedigree could have been enough to maybe affect the difference in 7 points between in the playoffs and out of the playoffs- from whatever position he played. Maybe he didn’t really affect the outcome of the teams positioning at all which leaves me to wonder if bringing him here was really worthwhile. I’ve never been a big Edu the player supporter and wasn’t really excited when he was brought in this year and by mid season was really pretty unimpressed, save the fill in roles at CB when he was definitely a quality player. For the record I think Edu the person is outstanding, at least from what we have seen and heard. Anyway….
    .
    …I will watch very eagerly next year what impact he has on the team, if he remains which now I hope he does since we jettisoned our other HDM. I will also observe as closely as possible, the difference/similarity in quality between Houston 8th place 39 points and The Union 6th place 42 points now that Owen Coyle has been brought in to manage that club.

  3. “He even scored the only goal in the U.S. Open Cup Final!”

    -If only this were true.

  4. I for one am glad Edu is on the Union. Yes there were times when he could have hustled a little more, but for the most part he was there and did impose his will on the game, especially at CB. I heard the same complaints about Clint Dempsey , Bradely and others who were expected to have bigger impacts when they came back to MLS. Every player on the Union can be accused of disappearing especially their “star players.” More often than not Edu did step up. He also helped Ethan White become a servicable CB. Fans (including myself) are fickled. I dare say some who post here will never appreciate what Edu does and will use every opportunity to harp on a few bad moments and use it to define an entire body of work. Everyone loves Landon Donovan but I remember the times he was raked over the coals for a bad decision or not tracking back. The Union need to put a team on the field that allows Edu to be everything he has the potential to be. In my opinion Edu like Jermaine Jones on the Revs, is a final piece that when surrounded by competent coaching and complimentary talent will be in a better position to impose his will on the game.

  5. I suspect that part of Edu’s impact is in the locker room. And while we cannot know what that is, I have a hunch that it is substantial and positive. Assuming that we obtain his rights and he remains with the team, does anybody doubt that he’s the team captain next year?

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