Analysis

Examining Alejandro Bedoya’s role in the Union’s tactical setup

Photo: Stephen Speer

Editor’s note: We’re excited to add James Nalton, whose work has appeared in Morning Star, World Soccer, Forbes, The Guardian, and more, as a regular contributor to PSP.

The opening games of the season have highlighted the importance of a key player in a key position within Union head coach Jim Curtin’s tactical setup.

Alejandro Bedoya, the 34-year-old American of Colombian descent, remains vital to the team for a number of reasons, chief among them the quality of his play — he’s still one of the most consistent contributors on the pitch.

The captain already has two goals this season and is one of three Union players to find the net so far in 2022 along with Daniel Gazdag and Cory Burke. He also leads the team for key passes with nine.

Bedoya’s experience operating in a number of positions for his previous clubs in Sweden, France, and a short spell in Scotland, has made him an ideal fit on the right of the midfield diamond formation.

Having played on the right-wing at times for Nantes, in various attacking positions during his time in Sweden, and in the center of midfield especially after arriving in MLS, his current role for the Union is almost a combination of all his previous assignments.

For it, he needs the instinct and vision of an attacking midfielder, the work rate and tactical discipline of a midfielder, and the positional awareness to support the right-back and defensive midfielder when required.

Creating width

It’s in those latter moments when contributing to the defensive shape that Curtin’s formation becomes less a 4-4-2 diamond, and more a 4-3-1-2 as the wide midfielders drop back.

The narrow back four, which spreads out somewhat once the team are in possession, contributes to the defensive solidity, but the discipline of the whole team, including Bedoya’s work down the right, is important to how it functions.

Though nominally a central midfielder, the work Bedoya does in wide areas — something he has done increasingly since joining the club in 2016 — helps the team in a number of ways.

The SofaScore heatmaps below from the four games played in 2022 so far (left) and from the whole of the 2021 season (right) show how much work he does close to the touchline.

Leon Flach’s positioning on the left side of midfield is similar, and this is one of the ways the Union are able to add width to a formation that can traditionally have problems finding it.

This is useful for the transitions between defense and attack, and vice versa. It means the midfielders on either side of the defensive midfielder (usually Jose Martinez) are an outlet in a wide position (where a full-back might normally be in more expansive teams) when the team win the ball back.

Supporting the defense

The narrowness of the defense, with the right-back tucked in alongside the right centerback, means it’s useful for another player to drop into these spaces to facilitate the transition from defense to attack or launch counter-attacks.

Bedoya’s support of Nathan Harriel — the 20-year-old who has, in the opening games this season, staked a claim to be the club’s first-choice right-back — is important in terms of the team’s tactics as well as in his role as an experienced player and team captain supporting an academy graduate.

If the team loses the ball with Harriel (or Olivier Mbaizo) caught high up the pitch, as can often happen with full-backs, Bedoya can scoot back to cover. He can also help press the opposition left-back and midfielders on that side in front of his right-back once the team has settled into its defensive shape.

One of the decisions Bedoya needs to make regularly during games is when to support the attack (either by making runs into the box or offering an option on the edge of the area) and when to hang back as an insurance policy in case the opposition win the ball.

Of the players who managed over 800 minutes in MLS last season for the Union, only strikers Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybylko, and Burke, plus attacking midfielder Gazdag, averaged more touches in the opposition penalty area per game than Bedoya.

This attacking side of Bedoya’s game was evident when he scored the equalizing goal at Montreal, picking up a loose ball in the box and finishing coolly with his weaker left foot. His second for 2022 was another assured finish after finding space in the box at a set-piece.

He also provided the secondary assist for Gazdag’s goal against New York City, with the timing and weight of the left-footed through-ball inviting Harriel to make the next play. 

The full-back then threaded a low cross to the far post for Gazdag, but the pass to get him in that position was crucial to the goal, showing Bedoya’s midfield playmaking skill and hinting at a potentially fruitful combination with Harriel on the right flank.

Turning 35 next month, Bedoya brings vital experience along with leadership, which is especially important in a team that likes to promote young homegrown players. What he also brings is expertise in a key position in coach Curtin’s game plan, and despite his advancing years remains an invaluable figure at the club into 2022.

9 Comments

  1. excellent article, love the tactical insight!

  2. Welcome to PSP James! I enjoyed the article. Bedoya has definitely been off to a strong start this season. Hopefully Curtin can find ways to keep him fresh throughout the season because, like you say, he’s still a very important piece of the puzzle.

  3. Great article and we are glad to have you contributing.
    Don’t think you can overstate the importance of having Bedoya in front of Harriel for the young player’s development. (He’s Crash Davis for a young pitcher for a baseball reference). He gives Nate the confidence to move forward knowing he has cover and doesn’t have to worry about being at fault if he is caught upfield. I think M’Baizo benefitted too but regressed when away on break with his national team (combine that with his occasional ball watching and he lost his starting spot). I recall thinking Ilshino was a big part of Rosenberry’s offensive success as they always combined so well going forward.

    Even with a lost step of speed Bedoya continues to position himself so wisely he is rarely caught out (at least for the first 60-70 minutes). I think I wince out loud at the end of games when I see him put his head down and sprint 30 yards to get back on defense to help out but that effort is what makes him one of my all time favorite players and why he is so important to this team as a captain. You will always work harder for someone who walks the walk and puts in the effort.

  4. Chris Gibbons says:

    The team are so right sided, and it’s probably because it Bedoya above anything else. He’s the glue.

  5. Gruncle Bob says:

    Welcome to PSP! Nice piece!

  6. It’s pretty wild to see how the half field line splits his play. Offense/defense? kinda makes sense since our cb’s are usually caring the ball up pretty far when they have possession.

    I like the hockey rink effect in the top right corner.

  7. Great piece James. I love the tactical stuff. I’m not good at seeing it but love reading it and expanding my ever growing knowledge! Bedoya’s a great player and even though he’s getting older and a bit slower, he is the type of player and person that fans can connect with!

  8. James Nalton says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments! I hope to do more tactical articles throughout the season (as well as other bits and pieces). If anyone wants anything specific covering in terms of tactics/stats, just give me a shout! Cheers.

  9. Wracked Opinion says:

    Welcome James!

    Such an insightful article.

    Please keep them coming.

    Stay well, safe and blessed!

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