By Ridge Mahoney
Maurice Eduwould certainly be a welcome addition to the Philadelphia Union, but if a transfer from Stoke City materializes as expected, he won’t replace Jeff Parke at center back.
During a telephone interview Thursday, Union head coachJohn Hackworthreiterated that a deal is close but not yet done. He also specified Edu will fill a vital role in central midfield, and not replace the veteran center back who requested and was granted a trade to D.C. United.
“One of the reasons why Mo is interested in coming back to the league is, one, he knows from[Jurgen] Klinsmann he has to play in order to make the World Cup team,” said Hackworth. “He also knows he has to be playing in the center midfield position because that’s where Jurgen and his staff are looking for him to play, and that’s absolutely one of our key needs: a guy who can be a box-to-box midfielder. While I think he could play center back, my commitment to him and to his representatives is we will play him in the midfield.”
Team president Nick Sakiewicz left the country Thursday, presumably to finalize a deal with Stoke City. Hackworth sees Edu as a vital piece in his upgrading of a team that as late as August was in second place but eventually faded out of the playoff chase.
“Hindsight is 20-20 and based on where I felt we were gonna be going into the season last year, what we did is we probably overperformed,” said Hackworth of the 2013 season. “We did that early and we kind of stayed there for a long time. We were a team that for most of the year, and I don’t know if we finished this way, but we didn’t lose two games in a row for an awful long time. In this league, that’s really impressive.”
Hackworth is correct. No other team went as long as did Philly without losing two straight games, which it did in the 28th and 29th games of the season. It also lost its last two games to wind up seventh, three points short of a playoff spot. A franchise-record 12 wins and 46 points weren't enough.
“Without making excuses or telling you this guy or that guy didn’t do it, collectively as a team we let ourselves down,” said the coach. “But at the same time I’m really proud of that team for putting themselves in that position. I don’t think anybody would have given us a shot to be a contender if you would have asked them in February, for sure.”
The signing of Edu would be another significant shakeup in the Eastern Conference. New coaches in Montreal, Columbus and Chicago and the blockbuster moves of Toronto FC have ratcheted up the pressure throughout the 10 teams. Philly still needs to replace that hole left by Parke and would miss Edu for nearly two months if he makes the World Cup team, yet quality upgrades are imperative.
“We’re almost there,” said Hackworth. “It’s not done and until these types of contracts are signed I never think they’re done. I’m an optimist but it’s so tenuous when you go through these. We’re close. Everyone’s working hard and we are very motivated to get this done.”