For the first time since 2016, Maurice Edu made his first competitive appearance for the Union’s USL minor league club, Bethlehem Steel.

“Obviously you’re kind of tentative at first, or you feel like you may be tentative at first after missing a lot of time,” said Edu after the game. “I just played, I wasn’t to worried or focused on the injury. It always feels good to be back on the pitch.”

The 31-year0old veteran midfielder started and played the first 31 minutes of the match in the Steel’s 3-1 home loss to Louisville FC. He started alongside a familiar face, Derrick Jones, in a deep midfield position. Edu registered 23 touches and completed all of his 17 passing attempts. After slowly regaining his form, Edu was replaced by Anthony Fontana.

“It’s good for our younger guys to play alongside an established vet [like Edu],” Steel coach Brendan Burke said. “He controlled the flow of the game and the tempo in the midfield during his time out there.”

After hearing Edu’s postgame interview, it seemed like he’s mentally prepared to play 90 minutes of soccer at a high level, but some may speculate that his injury history may slow him down. Injuries do play a mind game with any athlete, no matter what sport they play. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro, college, or even a high school athlete, they will catch up with you eventually. Mentally, they will be in the back of your mind throughout your career.

Of course Edu is going to say he’s ready to forget about his injuries and move on, but we all now it’s never that easy. It will cross his mind every once in awhile when he’s going into a sliding challenge or competing for a 50-50 ball. Some players do react differently to certain situations and maybe Edu will put his past behind him, but I’m not to sure.

Being a collegiate soccer player myself and having played a year of semi-pro soccer, I know the difficulties of bouncing back from an injury. Edu has to take his time to regain his soccer legs and to become match fit. It’s all about taking baby steps. You don’t want to rush the progress, but you don’t want to take it to slow either. If you ask me, Edu does have something to prove before he gets a crack at making the first team roster.

It has to be a tough, struggling time in his career after all of the injuries he has accumulated over the years. Let’s take a step in another direction and compare Edu’s situation to another soccer star, Brek Shea.

Shea also found himself in a very similar situation a handful times. Just like Edu, Shea dealt with injuries throughout his career. Shea missed four months of the season in 2012 with FC Dallas after having foot surgery. After he was transferred to Stoke City of the English Premier League, Shea missed half of the season again due to a “lack of fitness” from his foot surgery. He also had minor, nagging injuries throughout the 2013 and 2014 seasons where he was loaned out to Barnsley and Birmingham City.

Since returning to the MLS in 2014 with Orlando City, Shea partially resurrected his career by playing decent soccer and by staying healthy. After two-and-a-half years with Orlando, Shea was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Before the 2017 season began, Shea’s nagging injuries resurfaced and forced him out until his debut in April. Since then, Shea has never been the same player he was back when he played for FC Dallas. Instead of a rising young star, Shea was just another young talented player who would never take the next step due to his injuries. That’s why I believe it will be hard for Edu to bounce back, given the fact that he’s 31 and his body may not recover as quickly as a younger player’s body would.

This factor also plays a mental role on the veteran, knowing that his contract is up at the end of the year and that this could be his last shot to prove, not only to the Union, but to other MLS teams who may be interested in signing him this upcoming offseason. He hasn’t suited up for the Union since 2015, nearly two years since playing in the MLS.

Edu will continue to up his minutes as games go on to try and return to full strength. The season is winding down quickly, so Edu will have to make some noise quickly to prove to the Union and other teams that he can still compete in the MLS.

Edu and the Steel will travel to Pittsburgh to face the Riverhounds this Saturday.

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