Fontana's Maurice Edu has emerged as a force in central midfield this season for Scottish giant Rangers FC, taking on more responsibility in attack and contributing mightily to the club's bid to win four trophies.
The Blues are out of one competition, ousted from the Scottish Cup by "Old Firm" archrival Celtic, but two championships are within grasp -- and a showdown Thursday at home against Dutch power PSV Eindhoven could send them to the last eight of the UEFA Europa League.
They can win the Scottish League Cup title Sunday, when they take on Celtic for the fifth time since New Year's, and are in command in the Scottish Premier League despite sitting two points behind Celtic in the standings.
And Edu (Etiwanda HS), whose stoppage-time goal three weeks ago sent Rangers past Sporting Lisbon and into the round of 16 in Europe's No. 2 club competition, is basking in his opportunity to play an important role for a storied European club against top competition.
"It's great getting the chance to play against the best teams in the world and test yourself against them," Edu, a U.S. national team midfielder who played in last summer's World Cup, told Major League Soccer's Web site this week. "You dream of playing in these competitions, so I'm just glad it's become a reality for me."
Injuries, mostly, limited Edu to 19 league starts in his first year and a half with Rangers, but he's made 27 starts -- and scored five goals -- in all competitions since the season kicked off last August. The goal against Sporting Lisbon was the biggest, by far, guaranteeing the SPL a second automatic berth in the lucrative UEFA Champions League.
"At the beginning of the season, the manager [Walter Smith] challenged me to get a few more goals ...," Edu said. "He's encouraged me to get forward and make late runs to support the strikers. I've been fortunate to grab a few goals. I like it because I've always seen myself as a box to box-type player. Hopefully, I can add to my tally before the end of the season."
He'll get his chance against PSV, which Rangers held to a scoreless draw in the first leg last week in Eindhoven. That gives the Blues the advantage heading into their home leg, but a tie with goals would send PSV through.
Celtic has posted shutout victories over Rangers in three of the last four meetings, and the emotion spilled over after the March 2 Scottish Cup replay, with Blues assistant coach Ally McCoist and Celtic manager Neil Lennon assessed suspensions following a postgame confrontation. In the lengthy history between the clubs, one Protestant (Rangers) and the other Catholic (Celtic), it wasn't a very big deal, but everything involving the Glasgow rivals always is amplified.
Smith, looking to improve his side's focus following a 3-0 league loss to Celtic in February, demanded his players refrain from social media. Edu, who has more than 411,000 followers on Twitter, hasn't posted since.
Rangers (21-4-2) have a game in hand in the league race after climbing within two points of Celtic (21-3-4) with a 2-1 win Sunday over Kilmarnock.
"It's going to take consistency ...," Edu told U.S. Soccer's Web site. "You need all the points possible. If we go on a good run and finish out the season strong, then as it stands, it's in our hands. We can't look too far ahead and get too far ahead of ourselves. We have to just stay composed and take it one game at a time."
Edu, who was on the U.S. roster released Wednesday for games later this month against Argentina and Paraguay, told U.S. Soccer that he hopes to make a difference for Rangers.
"I think there's still more to come," he said. "I can still get more goals and still play an important role in the team. I think everyone on our team, especially because we have such a small squad this season, has a role to play in the run for the title. Right now I'm just trying to make sure I stay fit and contribute as much as I can, and I think I can still get more goals from making late runs into the box and trying to influence the game a little bit from that area."
LUCKY 13: Irvine's Matt Taylor scored his 13th goal of the season to start Rot Weiss Ahlen to its third victory in five 3.Bundesliga matches, a 3-1 decision Saturday over visiting Heidenheim. Taylor, a former Chivas USA forward, converted a penalty kick two minutes into the second half.
Taylor is second in goals among L.A. area players in Europe, netting his 13 in just 20 league matches. He's scored 11 in his last 14 games in Germany's third tier.
Pasadena's Yura Movsisyan scored 14 goals for Randers in Denmark's top division before moving to FC Krasnodar, which opened its Russian Premier League campaign with a 0-0 draw Sunday at Anzhi Makhachkala. Movsisyan was a second-half substitute.
ETC.: Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan got a full 90 minutes for the first time since mid-December as Anderlecht surged atop Belgium's Jupiler League with a 1-1 draw at Eupen. Les Mauves (18-3-8) are a point ahead of Genk (18-4-7), a 2-0 loser to Westerlo. … Irvine's Benny Feilhaber and Danish second-division leader AGF Aarhus (12-1-3) returns from the four-month winter break Friday.
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)
Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)
Last week: 90 minutes as Les Verts (10-9-8) vaulted from 10th to seventh with a 2-0 win Saturday over Brest
Season: 23 league games (23 starts) with 2 goals, 25 games (25 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at ninth-place Lorient (10-10-7)
M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier League)
Last week: Idle
Season: 2 games (1 start) in all competitions for Aston Villa; 22 games (20 starts) with 4 goals for Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)
Next: Saturday vs. 19th-place Wolverhampton (8-16-5)
M/D JAY DENNY (Santa Monica)
Club: Hednesford Town (England, Southern League Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes for the fifth-place Pitmen (19-8-4) in a 2-1 win Wednesday at Swindon Supermarine; 90 minutes in a 2-0 win Saturday vs. Tiverton Town
Season: 31 league games (29 starts) with 1 goal, 39 games (37 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at 14th-place Cirencester Town (9-17-7)
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes in Thursday's 0-0 draw at PSV Eindhoven in tnhe first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 16; 90 minutes as the second-place Blues (21-4-2) beat Kilmarnock, 2-1, on Sunday
Season: 22 league games (16 starts) with 2 goals, 7 UEFA cup games (7 starts) with 2 goals, 34 games (27 starts) with 5 goals in all competitions
Next: Thursday vs. PSV Eindhoven in a UEFA Europa Cup round-of-16 second leg, Sunday vs. Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden Park
M BENNY FEILHABER (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark, 1.Division)
Last week: League is wrapping up winter break
Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 4 goals, 17 games (16 starts) overall with 7 goals
Next: Friday vs. 11th-place Hobro (5-7-3)
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
Last week: Idle
Season: 29 league games (29 starts), 50 goals allowed, 87 saves, 5 shutouts; 5 cup games (5 stars), 8 goals allowed, 18 saves; 34 games (34 starts), 60 goals allowed, 105 saves, 5 shutouts in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. 19th-place Wolverhampton (8-16-5)
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
Last week: 90 minutes Saturday as Les Mauves (18-3-8) climbed to first place with a 1-1 draw at Eupen
Season: 17 league games (12 starts) with 2 goals, 25 games (20 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Sunday vs. third-place KAA Gent (16-6-6)
D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)
Club: St. Neots Town FC (England, UCL Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes as the first-place Saints (26-1-4) won, 5-2, last week over Newport Pagnall Town, was a 75th-minute substitute in a 4-0 win Saturday over Sleaford Town, and played 90 minutes in a 4-2 win Tuesday over Holbeach United
Season: 10 league games (9 starts) with 1 goal, 11 games (10 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions for St. Neots Town; 13 games (13 starts) for Halesowen Town (England) with 1 goal
Next: Saturday vs. Kings Lynn in UCL League Cup
F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)
Club: FC Krasnodar (Russia, Russian Premier League)
Last week: 74th-minute substitute in a 0-0 draw Sunday at Anzhi Makhachkala in a league opener
Season: 1 league game (0 starts), 2 games (0 starts) in all competitions for Krasnodar; 25 games (20 starts) with 14 goals for Randers (Denmark)
Next: Saturday vs. Spartak Nalchik (1-0-0)
F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)
Last week: 90 minutes as Rot Weiss (8-11-9) won, 2-0, Tuesday over VfB Stuttgart II; started, played 80 minutes and converted a 47th-minute penalty kick in a 3-1 win Saturday over Heidenheim to climb to 12th place
Season: 20 league games (20 starts) with 13 goals, 21 games (21 starts) with 13 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at sixth-place Dynamo Dresden (13-8-6)
F BOBBY WOOD (Irvine)
Club: TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)
Past week: Did not play as 1860 (10-7-9) leapt to eighth with a 3-0 win Sunday at Arminia Bielefeld
Season: 5 league games (0 starts), 23 games (14 starts) with 7 goals in all competitions
Next: Friday vs. 14th-place Karlsruhe (7-13-6)