Edu, Okugo still trading places for Union

Union midfielder Maurice Edu. (John Geliebter/USA TODAY)
Union midfielder Maurice Edu. (John Geliebter/USA TODAY)
Posted: July 05, 2014

As Maurice Edu understands it, his recent position change will not be a permanent one. Edu, the Union's standout midfielder, has been temporarily moved to the back line.

The experiment started in the U.S. Open Cup and continued in the Union's first Major League Soccer game after the World Cup break, a 3-1 win at New England on Saturday.

Interim manager Jim Curtin switched Edu and Amobi Okugo. Edu guided the defense from the center back position, and Okugo returned to his former spot.

When Okugo joined the Union in their inaugural 2010 season, he was a midfielder. But for most of 2013 and all of this season, he had been at center back in MLS action - until the New England game.

Okugo and Edu have become fast friends. Okugo, 23, drives the 28-year-old Edu to practice every day.

"I'm going to talk to the [players] union about picking up an additional paycheck because I'm his personal driver," Okugo quipped.

The one problem with the midfield arrangement is that Okugo appears more excited about it than Edu. The experiment began in the Union's 3-1 overtime win against developmental affiliate Harrisburg in a U.S. Open Cup game on June 17.

Okugo sat out that night but was a midfielder in the next Open Cup match and in the New England game.

When asked how long the new alignment would work, Edu wasn't sure.

"I am more comfortable in the midfield," said Edu, a member of the 2010 U.S. World Cup team. "[Curtin] asked me to slot there a few games. The team is winning games, and we will see."

Playing on defense has provided a much different vantage point for Edu.

"Your perspective on the game and how you can dictate is different than in the midfield," he said. "I feel in the midfield you can be on the ball more, create more, and get in the box more, and you directly impact the attack."

He likes the cushion a player has in the midfield, where a mistake isn't as likely to cost a team a goal.

"You are the last line of defense," Edu said. "If you make a mistake, the only one behind you is the goalkeeper."

Maybe that is why Okugo likes the midfield so much.

"It's fun," he said. "In the midfield, you get more touches on the ball, and when you are on defense, you always get blamed for everything."

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Edu is a skilled midfielder, but he has the vision, the intelligence, and the ability to excel in the back.

"Maurice has a lot of the attributes for a center back - the speed, the heading ability, the size," said Curtin, whose team visits FC Dallas on Friday.

The manager won't say how long this change will last, calling it a game-by-game decision.

Edu and Okugo say they will do their best at whatever position they play, but each seems to have the same affinity for patrolling the midfield.

Union at FC Dallas

Friday, 9 p.m., at Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas.

Television: The Comcast Network.

Records: Union, 4-7-6, 18 points. FC Dallas, 6-7-5, 23 points.

Union on the road: 3-5-2. FC Dallas at home: 5-3-1.

Goals: Union, 25; FC Dallas, 28.

Goals against: Union, 28; FC Dallas 28.

Last MLS games: The Union won, 3-1, at New England on Saturday. FC Dallas played to a scoreless draw Sunday at Columbus.

Outlook: Defender Raymon Gaddis, midfielder Amobi Okugo, and goalie Zac MacMath have started all 17 games for the Union. . . . Sebastien Le Toux has a team-high six goals for the Union and has scored in his last three games, including two on Saturday. . . . Union midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who missed the last game with a groin injury, returned to practice this week and is expected to be available. . . . Defender Austin Berry, who has been sidelined with a rib injury, also is expected to be available. . . . Dallas forward Fabian Castillo, who shares the team lead with five goals, won't play while serving a suspension for a red card. Forward Blas Perez and defender Michel also have five goals for Dallas. . . . Former Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz has started 11 games for Dallas, including the most recent scoreless draw against Columbus. - Marc Narducci


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