Edu feeling right at home

Maurice Edu has come a long way from a shivering first-round pick packed into a parka to fight...

Maurice Edu has come a long way from a shivering first-round pick packed into a parka to fight Toronto's bitter cold on that first visit to our fair city. (Sun File/Ernest Doroszuk)

DEAN McNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

When Maurice Edu heard Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announce his name as the 2007 first overall draft pick for the expansion Toronto FC, he was of two minds.

First, he was excited at being the top pick out of thousands of eligible players coming out of U.S. colleges.

Second, he wanted to check out Wikipedia to get a handle on what kind of place he was headed towards.

You see, the only knowledge Edu had of Toronto was anecdotal; that is was a clean city, a safe city and a multicultural city.

What Wikipedia and stories from pals didn't prepare him for was the -34C wind-chilled temperature that greeted him when he got off the Air Canada flight from Los Angeles on January 15 to attend his introduction to the Toronto media.

NOT ONE PERSON

"I couldn't believe how cold it was," Edu said yesterday after he finished a brisk practice with teammates at BMO Field. "In all of the conversations I had about Toronto not one person mentioned anything to me about the cold."

The University of Maryland senior, after all, had done his growing up in year-round beach weather in San Bernardino, Calif., where the thermometer rarely dips into the teens, let alone the minus territory he found in his first trip to Toronto.

A particularly long cold spell through the team's three-week pre-season training session at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughn, did little to allay Edu's fears that he might never be able to take off his newly-purchased parka.

And when the regular season started with the team going goalless in its first four games, Edu must have been having third, fourth and even fifth thoughts about why he signed a multi-year contract with TFC manager Mo Johnston's collection of MLS newbies.

Now after more than six months in the city and more than half-way through the MLS season Edu couldn't be happier with his choices in teams and cities.

"After that first experience it could only get better," he said. "But really, I have fallen in love with Toronto."

Of course, Edu has his off-the-pitch priorities as well and Toronto has not disappointed in that respect, giving him lots of places to explore and plenty of attractions to fill his social calendar.

"Hey, the night life here is pretty good, too" he said.

Edu checked out the bright sun yesterday as he spoke and smiled as perspiration rolled down his face, noting this was the kind of weather that made the life of a 21-year-old superstar in the making more than just all right.

"I knew that with the multi-cultural mix here there would be a lot of interest in soccer," he said. "But I never dreamed of the kind of support the team has gotten from the fans. I know it's a cliche, but they really are our 12th man out there."

Edu is all too aware, as well, that even the most ardent TFC fans must be getting frustrated at the team's current six-game (3 losses, 3 ties) winless streak that it will carry into the game tomorrow against Chivas USA at BMO Field, but he is certain he and his teammates can turn the season around.

"Look, when he had that poor start, we never gave up because we knew as a team that once we scored that first goal the gates would open," he said. "And I think the same way about our current situation."

Maybe it's the optimism of youth, but Edu really does expect TFC to challenge for a playoff spot in this his -- and the team's -- rookie season.

Johnston, who has been mildly critical of Edu recently, especially for taking fouls that have resulted in two suspensions, said that the youngster has such a big upside it's hard to stay mad at him for long.

"He is young and he's got to learn to stay away from game situations where he could get a yellow card," he said. "But do I think he has a future in the MLS? Absolutely, or I wouldn't have picked him first overall this year. He is going to be a great player for a long time in this league."

All Edu has to do now is deliver on the promised potential that earned him the title best in his class on draft day this past January.


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