Midfielder Maurice Edu has returned to the United States, to Major League Soccer, and to what he hopes is his former dominant self.
Of all the acquisitions the Union made in preparation for their fifth MLS season, none is expected to have a bigger impact than Edu, who turns 28 on April 18. Nobody expects more from Edu than he does of himself.
"I do want to make an impact," he said. "I want to come and do well and win."
While winning is his No. 1 priority, Edu clearly has his eye on reemerging on the national stage.
Edu is hoping for another shot at this year's World Cup, after competing for the United States in 2010.
More than anything, Edu is happy to find stability. As with many soccer players, the California native, a former standout at the University of Maryland, has lived a nomadic existence. He was MLS rookie of the year in 2007 with Toronto, where he stayed until partway through the 2008 season. After competing in the Olympics in 2008, Edu joined the Rangers of the Scottish Premier League.
A veteran with 45 U.S. national team appearances, Edu appeared in three World Cup games for the United States in 2010, making one start.
Edu's career was on the upswing until he was sold to Stoke City of the English Premier League in 2012. A series of injuries limited his playing time. Last season he was on loan to Bursaspor of the Turkish Super Lig.
He is now on a one-year loan from Stoke City, but the Union have an option to purchase. The sides have begun negotiating on a multiyear deal.
Edu has gone out of his way to mesh with his new teammates. During the preseason he has acted like one of the guys despite a resumé that has set him apart.
"He didn't come in as a big-time Charlie and say he was better than everybody else," Union manager John Hackworth said. "He has come to work every single day and improved."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Edu is both physical and fluid. The day he signed, Hackworth lauded his two-way ability, saying he was somebody willing to do the grunt work on defense but also more than capable of attacking.
Hackworth has seen both sides in the preseason.
"He will do all the dirty work, but he still enjoys all the fun parts as well," Hackworth said.
It's a classic case of one of the team's top players also being among its hardest workers. Any team would covet that combination.
"His presence has been huge," said Union captain and fellow midfielder Brian Carroll. "It raises the level and awareness of our club and also raises the level of our play on the field, and it's been exciting to play alongside of him."
Edu admits that he hopes a strong spring with the Union could get him another chance with the U.S. team.
"That is obviously in the back of my mind, too," he said. "It's all a process, and I have to measure that I am doing well here first, and that stuff will work itself out. But obviously, yes, my goal is to be back with the national team and go to the World Cup, but it starts off on the 8th."
He was referring to Saturday, when the Union open at Portland against the formidable Timbers.
Not surprisingly, Edu said his World Cup experience was like no other.
"As a kid you dream of those moments," he said. "Walking out in the stadiums and looking around and taking in the crowd and atmosphere, it is surreal at times."
While reliving that experience is a major goal, Edu isn't looking past the MLS season. Even after leaving the league the first time, he followed the teams.
During the preseason, he said the level of play is better than during his first MLS stint. Most of all, he is hoping to be one of the difference makers and help the Union earn the second playoff berth in its history. Last year the Union went 12-12-10 and placed seventh in the Eastern Conference; the top five teams make the postseason. The Union finished with 46 points, while fifth-place Montreal ended with 49.
"I am excited," he said. "I came onto this team knowing they narrowly missed the playoffs, and this is a hungry group of guys, and we all believe in each other and feel we can compete with any team in the league."
That feeling comes in no small part from the acquisition of Edu, who is hoping his second journey in MLS tops his impressive opening act.
Coach: John Hackworth (3d season, second full season, 20-23-14).
Last year: 12-12-10 (46 points), seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Key returning players: D Sheanon Williams (2 goals, 8 assists last year), M-F Sebastien Le Toux (3 goals, 12 assists), F Jack McInerney (12 goals), F Conor Casey (10 goals, 5 assists), M Brian Carroll (2 goals, 1 assist), D Amobi Okugo (3 goals, 3 assists), G Zac MacMath (12 shutouts).
Top newcomers: M Maurice Edu, M Vincent Nogueira, M Cristian Maidana, D Austin Berry, G Andre Blake.
Opener: The Union begin their fifth Major League Soccer season with Saturday's 10:30 p.m. game at Portland against the Timbers.
Outlook: The Union should seriously contend for one of the five Eastern Conference playoff spots. While on paper the Union have shown great improvement, many other Eastern Conference teams also made key additions ... The Union's biggest weakness last year was the lack of an attacking midfielder, and that should change. Edu, who has extensive experience with the U.S. National Team, appears intent on having a big season after seeing limited time the previous two seasons while the property of Stoke City of the English Premier League. Both Edu and Nogueira, who comes from Sochaux of France's Ligue 1, will bring offensive punch to a midfield that was lacking in that area last year ... It will be interesting to see how MacMath handles the increased competition from Blake, who was the No. 1 overall selection in this year's SuperDraft. MacMath played his best soccer toward the end of last season, and, by all indications, he has enjoyed a strong preseason ... McInerney must show the form he displayed at the beginning of last year before he went on long scoring drought ... Berry, who was acquired in the preseason from the Chicago Fire, should team with Okugo to give the Union two solid center backs ... Williams, who is nursing a quadriceps injury, hopes to be ready for Saturday, but it's unlikely that Casey (calf) will play.