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The captain’s return

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Union Designated Player Maurice Edu made a 32-minute medical rehabilitation appearance for the Bethlehem Steel in their game against New York Red Bulls II at Goodman Stadium on Sunday.

Physical health

First, and most important because it is the starting point from which the restoration of quality soccer playing must begin, Edu appeared to be physically sound. There was no sign of the “limping-when-relaxed” that had been directly observed at an open practice at Talen Energy Stadium on June 30.

He was knocked down and got right back up more than once. He, in turn without physical consequence, knocked down some Red Bullocks, as we should perhaps call the younger members of that organization who look to send older full grown Bulls off the packing house to become hamburger.

He displayed the strength and balance to shield the ball successfully from one or two NYRBII defenders. He also showed his ego is also healthy as he assumed he could continue to do so against arriving third, fourth, and fifth defenders, incorrectly on the day as it turned out.

He gave — too vigorously according to the game’s referee — and received shoulder charges. There was a slide tackle block to prevent an unmarked raid into dangerous space.

He marked Brandon Allen, the goal-scoring striker who is a physically mature nearly 23-year-old, on corner kicks, giving not a sniff of a scoring opportunity.

He won head balls, although the opposition did not single him out for that particular form of testing.

In short, the only physical issues that seem to remain are the ones you would expect to find in “September-as-February” match pace when executing technique and cardio-vascular endurance. Jim Curtin’s version of coach-speak usually summarizes those two together as “match fitness.”

Cardio

Curtin has demonstrated a conventional, clear pattern for developing cardiovascular endurance in his players during the two Februaries he has been in charge of the Union. He practices twice a day on non-game days, and every third or fourth day — in the preseason game or the less formal scrimmage — he gets as many members of the group as possible to the next plateau in the following sequence of game minutes: 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90.

If we can expect he will follow the same sequence conditioning Mo Edu, then Edu will get extra practice sessions focused on cardio, following the latest Dr. Mengele tweaks of Sports Science’s array of tortures. If the strategy is to be conservative, the captain next will replicate Sunday’s 32 minutes but in an MLS game environment. Most conservatively, he would come on as a sub from the 55th minute or so. Less conservatively, he would start in the crucible of the game’s top speed before it slows down.

The Union have so far seemed very conservative with Edu, but there are only six games left. If the sports science staff finds no warning on Monday during his presumed “regen” day, as Coach Burke calls it, a more ambitious conditioning goal may be a full half against Montreal when the Impact visits Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday. Were we to see that we can safely assume all is well.

If Edu does see minutes this weekend, Portland a full week later could see him play at least 60 minutes, hopefully as many as 75. And the following week might see him attempt a full 90 at Toronto if tactical considerations and personnel match-ups also align.

As part of this process keep in mind that fellow No. 6 Brian Carroll needs fitness restoration as well. Warren Creavalle will get some well-earned rest. [Whatever his offensive flaws — and they are manifest together with some defensive inconsistencies — Warren Creavalle has done yeoman, season-long, emergency service for the first team.] Carroll and Edu will likely spell each other early in the fitness restoration process. How both return to 90 minute fitness simultaneously is a knot as yet undeciphered.

The guessed schedule outlined above gets Edu back and ready to go full bore for the last three games of the season. Two of them are against Red Bulls, a team he loves to torment.

Technique and tactics

Edu’s technique seemed as sound as ever observed from the shade high up in Goodman Stadium’s west stands. The issue with it concerns match pace execution, and the solution to that is matches.

Assessing his tactical awareness and integration into a game plan is unfair on the basis of playing with “teammates-for-a-day.”

Edu does not practice with the Steel. Edu underwent tests on Thursday to clear him to play. An announcement that he would be available to play for Bethlehem was made on Saturday, but we do not know exactly when the internal permission to play was given. Certainly, Brendan Burke’s comments have indicated such decisions are delayed as long as possible so as to be made with the most recent information available. So, at most Edu had one or two sessions with Burke’s boys. It is possible he had none.

The captain’s tactical basics were there. They should be. They are the point of every team at every level following the same tactical template.

But soccer turns on meshing the individual players’ subtleties into something greater than the mere sum of the parts. Edu did not have that “greater” with his temporary teammates, and he should not be expected to have had it.

Within those conceptual limits to the possible, he defended well.

He stayed at the “vertical” depth appropriate for the No. 6 position. He ranged widely from sideline to sideline; Alejandro Bedoya will be a half step faster to fill in behind him in the center than was the still-learning Derrick Jones.

Once toward the end of his shift he was caught in the middle third and did not recover with Bolt-like speed. But Bolu and Bibbs covered his butt, as will Richie and Ken, or Richie and Josh.

Offensively, he was not as effective distributing the ball as was his in-game successor James Chambers.

Mentally, he read his possessions expecting MLS-level speed of defensive response, so if the proper positive pass was not available instantly, he attempted to shield and looked for outlets behind him in the back line. Failure to offer such opportunities is probably the biggest criticism to be made of the neophyte center back combination Bolu and Bibbs. Certainly they did not offer opportunities with MLS level mental speed, but how could they? Had it been Anderson and Auston Trusty, those two might have.

The solution to Edu’s mental offensive issues during his shift is to return to an MLS environment. He will do so.

Maurice Edu will not be Our Saviour instantly walking on water feeding the multitudes with an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke. Hopefully he will be ready to help convert Red Bulls to hamburger twice at the end of the season, and to convince Orlando City in between that it really is “better in the Bahamas,” oops, Florida.

12 Comments

  1. This analysis makes me hopeful. Also, I approve of the use of Red Bollocks as a reference to That New Jersey team — never been a fan of “Pink Cows” as a pejorative.

    • Actually, I cannot take credit for your own creativity, in all conscience!
      .
      My phrase is “Red Bullocks” with a “u”, referring to the technical term for adolescent bovine males.
      .
      Your Red “Bollocks” phrase is brilliant and should be adopted universally through this site and everywhere else.
      .
      Well done!

  2. “the latest Dr. Mengele tweaks of Sports Science’s array of tortures” – Wow, that is a tough training camp!

  3. The question for discussion now is when to make the switch between the Steel and the first team?
    .
    Do you look build him to a full 90mins fit with the Steel for the playoffs with the Union or do look to get him only 60-75mins with the Steel and look to get him an extra few games playing with his new teammates on the first team (but then have to burn a sub every game)?

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Sorry I was not clear.
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      I expect he has played his last minutes for the Steel this season , barring major setback.
      .
      To me, the key fact is that the USL pace of play is slower than that of MLS. At the USL level he gets 30 minutes of heightened cardio work, but does not face the same pressure on the system in all its aspects as he will during exactly the same length of time in an MLS game.
      .
      If everything was nominal yesterday, and I suspect he was checked over quite thoroughly while doing his regeneration day activities, he probably joined first team practices today in some aspects with a little extra consideration for the fact that he played his game minutes nearly a full day later than everybody else.
      .
      the obvious sub combination is with BC. Who starts and who finishes is a consideration.
      .
      What I hope we see is Edu starting Saturday night and playing the first half. That would signal that the sports science people are okay with him being pushed hard, because it is not only an additional 15 minutes, it is also at a higher pace of play, both running and in technique execution.
      .
      In saying the above, I am assuming that BC has a higher level of residual fitness than Edu because BC has been match fit all season, whereas Cap’n Mo is back in February still. Those wireless monitor harnesses they wear will allow the heath staff to keep very close track of how he’s doing with his cardio.
      .

      • I see. Certainly an encouraging report in the sense that he was not timid with the injury. Rust is expected.
        .
        My comment was more soliciting discussion then anything – what do other commentators feel is the best course of action in the big picture? Would coming on for that last 30mins for Carroll/Creavalle with the Union be better then pushing for 45-60mins with the Steel? Is it more important to get him 90mins fit or get him time with the new faces on the first team like Bedoya going into the playoffs? Would it be worth starting Mo knowing you will have to burn a sub on him as the Union fit for playoff position?
        .
        Really there is no clear (ie. right/easy) answer so it is an interesting thing to ponder. I’m interested to see what others think about the situation.

  4. Incidentally, it should be public knowledge that Maurice Edu signed autographs for all Steel season ticket holders who wanted them starting about thirty minutes after the game. {I overheard the timing being explained as I walked by the site on my way out of the stadium Sunday evening.}

  5. I just don’t see it. So he doesn’t look good with Steel and the thought process is we try to push him to throw him in more time at MLS break the chemistry and try to get him ready for the playoffs. Sorry, but I would rather not. I bring back Carroll. I give Edu maybe 30 minutes at most 45 in the second half in one of the next 3 games. If the team has clinched a playoff spot he can play in the last three games. If not he is put on the bench as Carroll’s backup leaving Creavalle off the game day 18.

  6. With all due respect, I think this piece puts a very positive spin on a lukewarm return. Mo spent a lot of time in the refs face. He had a bad turnover at midfield and dogged the recovery run, holding up the winger when he was going to be beaten for pace. Also did his foul lead to the pk? Quite simply, he looked like there were other places he wanted to be.

    • The foul that led to the PK was committed by Bolu Akinyode #42 playing as the LCB in this particular game.
      .
      I would question “very,” since being restricted to only two truly “unrestricted” substitutes for three or four games is a handicap, although I expect them to kill two birds with one stone by reconditioning BC simultaneously. And Edu will be back to full capacity only for the last three games.
      .
      Otherwise, yes, it is a positive spin. It assumes he does not break down. That condition is the “All other things being equal” caveat. and it assumes that the judgment is that they can push him pretty hard as they bring him toward 90 minutes game fitness.
      .
      There will be reporters at Union practice today watching and asking about Edu, I would think. what they observe and Jim Curtin’s answers to Edu questions will tell us something about the breakdown issue.

  7. In what way have the Union seemed conservative? 2 days before he played for BSFC, Edu reportedly failed a physical. If anything, Edu seems to have overtrained rehabbing an injury and injured himself worse. And then took forever to recover because of it. I don’t get the sense Curtin is overly cautious about injuries.I think they’ve been genuinely puzzled by Edu and his healing.

  8. At least I am worth a good laugh! 😉
    .
    Jim Curtin clearly indicated that Edu’s next minutes will be with the Steel in the press conference video I just finished watching.

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