Players to watch

Player to watch: Alejandro Bedoya

Photo by: 215pix

Editor’s note: To read each post in the Player to Watch series, click here.

Alejandro Bedoya gets around.

While playing for the U.S. National Team, the 29-year-old Philadelphia Union midfielder played for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as a holding midfielder… and an attacking midfielder… and a winger?

Last season, Union head coach Jim Curtin started Bedoya as a No. 8 center midfielder in all but one game. This season, early indications are that he will occupy the No. 10 role.

Versatility is a key attribute for the native of Englewood, N.J. Depending on the opponent, Klinsmann could deploy Bedoya in a variety of positions. That’s easier to do when you have Michael Bradley solidifying your midfield and Clint Dempsey sparking the attack. The Union’s designated player will not have that luxury with this club as Philadelphia needs him to be the leading man.

The face of the Union?

Sebation Giovinco. David Villa. Bradley Wright-Phillips. Jordan Morris.

Those are the faces of the MLS. Specifically, those are the faces of their respective teams. All are unique, but are similar in key ways. They fill stat sheets. They dazzle audiences. They are the Apollo Creeds.

Who is the face of the Union? That’s an interesting question.  Newcomers Jay Simpson and Haris Medunjanin aren’t grandiose signings, handed the title without first proving they deserve it. In this city, there are two reasonable answers.

  1. Andre Blake is spectacular, but he is also a goalkeeper. Tim Howard is the exception, not the rule.
  2. Alejandro Bedoya is a known quantity. He has made 57 international appearances for the United States.

From a marketing standpoint, those caps matter. It’s the reason he has been at the forefront of the Union’s preseason media rounds.

But this isn’t why Bedoya should be the face of the franchise.

Why to watch

Alejandro Bedoya is the best player on the Philadelphia Union. Period.

While Ilsinho and Medunjanin are more technically gifted, the all-around game Bedoya brings each week is unmatched. He will not captivate the fans with audacious one-on-one dribbling. It isn’t to say he can’t do such magic, but he doesn’t feel the need.  The ball is rarely at his feet long. He possesses exceptional decision-making, quickly moving the ball when he gets it. Knowing where the next pass needs to go isn’t flashy, but it is highly effective.

It is what Bedoya does when the ball is not at his feet, however, that may be the most beneficial to the Union. His movement in and out of pockets of space opens the field. He will occupy defenders with smart runs, creating room for teammates. The same applies to his defensive movement.

In the Copa America, Bedoya was integral in the United States’ win over Paraguay. After DeAndre Yedlin was sent off in the 48th minute, Bedoya was the one providing the defensive cover. During the tournament as a whole, he was a standout performer. Yes, Argentina is Argentina, but there was a noticeable drop-off when Bedoya was suspended for the semifinal.

The minutes you don’t have the ball are just as important as when you do.

There will be different expectations for the Union, however. Bedoya will be asked to provide from a statistical standpoint. As a No. 10, goals and assists matter. This is even more important for Philadelphia, who lack a truly prolific scorer. The Union may need Bedoya to score in the double digits, but historically, goals haven’t come in bulk for the player.

While a small sample size, Bedoya’s sole regular season goal with Philadelphia came in the one game he started at the top of the midfield. In his final season at FC Nantes, it was tough going in the early part of the season. From Jan. 20 until the end of the Ligue 1 season, the midfielder managed five goals in all competitions.

It will be interesting to see Bedoya’s progression if he spends ample time as the central attacking midfielder. Can he be the best player on a quality team?

Best case scenario

Alejandro Bedoya is not an Ignacio Piatti or Sacha Kljestan. Bedoya’s, and by extension the Union’s, season will be considered a success if:

  • Bedoya consistently finds the back of the net and finishes the season with 10 to 15 goals.
  • Instead of creating as like traditional No. 10s, Bedoya is the linchpin of a high-pressure system. He harasses defenders into errant passes, helping the Union become a lethal counter-attacking team.
  • Against high-pressing teams, Bedoya allows the Union’s back line to bypass a congested midfield. He will create the necessary angles and outlets, easing pressure in the process.
  • His runs and passing allow Jay Simpson and C.J. Sapong to become the goal scorers the need to be. They no longer are stuck collecting the ball far up the field, with their backs toward the final third.
  • Most importantly, a symbiotic link develops between Bedoya and Ilsinho. The Brazilian has the traits of the traditional No. 10 while Bedoya has experience on the wing. Their runs and movements intertwine, presenting a fluidity difficult to defend.
Worst case scenario

Because of his consistency, it is tough to imagine Bedoya becoming a liability.

But there is definitely at least one bad scenario that could emerge as domino effects stemming from other personnel issues, beginning with the No. 8 center midfield role next to Medunjanin:

  • Derrick Jones will need another year with Bethlehem Steel. Maurice Edu never returns as the effective player he was. Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll do not provide enough offensively to pair with Medunjanin, so…
  • Alejandro Bedoya takes his position as the holding midfielder next to Medunjanin. The Bosnian and the American cannot coexist, as the Union’s midfield becomes a sieve without a more defense-oriented player. Neither can capitalize on their offensive talents.
  • Philadelphia’s attack becomes stagnant. Jim Curtin is forced to juggle his lineup, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Without a traditional creator, the Union cannot unlock the more stout defenses in MLS.
Outlook

The truth lies somewhere in between those outcomes. It will be a process as Bedoya adapts to his new role. He will also need to adapt to the new players around him. Expect some growing pains and the offense to look toothless at times.

But don’t panic.

As the season rolls on, the Union will likely become more dangerous. The pieces will click, and it will be an attack that relies on no one in particular.

At the heart of the team, however, will be Alejandro Bedoya.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing your perspective, Nick. I generally agree.
    .
    However, the more I think about this season, the more I think the back line (CB’s, specifically) and team shape/defending will trump any individual performances. Can the team sustain that level of discipline?
    .
    I prefer to be an optimist, but see too many things that need to go “best case scenario” in order to get results.
    .
    As for playing well (hat tip to El P), I’m honestly waiting for Yaro to return to health and game fitness. Then it will take time to gel. Union need his passing ability and speed paired with Marquez. And that is yet another “hope that works out” scenario.
    .
    Sigh.
    .
    To quote an extremely obscure song: “Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better.”

    • pragmatist says:

      I agree with the CB/back line assessment, and I have to believe it will be better when Yaro returns, due to his passing and speed.
      .
      But this leads to an interesting thought: What is the perception of this team if last year happens in reverse? What if we get 8 points from our first 8 games, go to the All Star Break in 10th place, and then steamroll through August and September and steal the last playoff spot?
      .
      How does that change everyone’s perception of this team? Or does it? I’m sure the screams for Curtin’s head will be deafening before the break if we’re that bad, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

      • I’m grateful that you brought this up because the scenario you described seems far more likely than a strong start followed by a post-break collapse.
        .
        Understandably, it will take some time for the midfield to gel as Medunjanin adjusts to MLS, Jones grows into his role and Bedoya settles into the 10 spot.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        .
        This would fit my narrative nicely

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        To me, in the end, teams revert back to their mean. If we are meant to have 50+ points and finish top 3 – we will. It doesn’t matter how you get there. Personally, I would much rather do the opposite of last year, and steam roll in August and September… giving you momentum into the playoffs. Regardless, I think we will all have a good idea, after a month or so, how many points this team will end up with.

      • pragmatist says:

        I agree than in theory teams revert to the mean. But there is a narrative that is written during the journey. That narrative can dictate the rest of the season through hyperbolic support or criticism.
        .
        If we lose our first 6 games and win our last 6, people will want Curtin fired all season long, even after the win streak. If we win our first 6 and lost our last 6, people will want him fired as soon as the season ends.
        .
        But if we play .500 ball all year long, everyone is content, because no particularly unexpected narrative takes hold.
        .
        Either way, having experience some odd years with this club, it will be interesting to see how this very critical season plays out.

      • scottymac says:

        So in either scenario the team takes long stretches where the tactics and lineups don’t produce and don’t win. Is it really surprising that after 3.5 years of that kind of performance people would want a change of manager? That difficult to comprehend?

    • The defense “unwinds like a cheap sweater”?

      You predict 2017?

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    He makes $1 million a year. He is the face of this team right now. He must be the best player on the field every game. For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring 10-15 (although I’ll take that of course)… it means being noticeable, and being a captain, and if you’re the 10 – be the 10. If you’re the 8 – be the 8. I have hope and confidence that he will. This team goes as Bedoya goes – IMO.

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