photo by David Bernal/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
NEW YORK — Four years ago, Alejandro Bedoya was training with the U.S. Men’s National Team during its pre-World Cup camp before he was made one of the final seven cuts from the provisional 30-man roster.
Bedoya felt the natural pain and disappointment that comes with such a decision, but he used those feelings and the knowledge that he could compete at such a high level as the fuel to the fire that now has him on the brink of playing in his first World Cup.
Coming off a strong season with Ligue 1 club Nantes, Bedoya is closing in on fulfilling his dream of playing in a World Cup just four years after narrowly missing out on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The 27-year-old midfielder is a projected starter for the U.S. and that should come as no surprise to those who have seen how much his confidence has grown during this World Cup cycle.
Bedoya, himself, is even acutely aware of how much he has changed since enduring that unpleasant moment at the U.S. team hotel four summers ago.
“This turnaround has been a lot different,” said Bedoya on Friday as the U.S. did its media rounds in and around Times Square. “Four year changes a lot. I’ve had an up-and-down career, but I knew that by working hard I could get myself back in this position.
“I played myself into this position and confidence as a footballer, athlete is so big and I have so much more of that and I’ve improved as a player playing in Ligue 1 for Nantes. It’s such a physical, fast-paced league, and it’s a tough league to play in. I’m playing against some of the best players in some big clubs and that has helped me a lot.”
Playing consistently at such a vital time in a World Cup cycle has indeed helped Bedoya raise his confidence, but receiving a steady dose of minutes was not a luxury Bedoya had throughout the past four years. The veteran and versatile midfielder made the jump to Scottish powerhouse Rangers from Swedish outfit Orebro SK in August 2011, and it turned out to be a regrettable move.
Bedoya sustained a number of niggling injuries that prevented him from seeing the field much in his only year with the club and that wound up costing him his place on the U.S. roster. It also left the midfielder with a big decision to make.
Knowing he needed to be playing consistently in order to garner the attention of new U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Bedoya took a step back and returned to Sweden by signing a short-term deal with Helsingborgs IF. Things went so well for him during his initial six-month stay that he agreed to another half-a-season deal with the club, which helped earn him a U.S. call-up at the 2013 Gold Cup and the deal with Nantes.
“Alejandro Bedoya made a huge step forward from the last two years,” said Klinsmann on Friday, “especially the last year where he broke through in the French league – a very strong French league – where he played many good games against the big names, Olympique Marseille or especially Paris Saint-Germain.”
All that is not to say that is was completely smooth sailing for Bedoya at Nantes. The Englewood, New Jersey, native went through a rough patch in which he did not see much time at the beginning of 2014, but he fought through those difficult moments knowing that the World Cup was around the corner.
Now, a much more confident Bedoya is primed to play a role in the World Cup this summer as the U.S. attempts to navigate its way out of a difficult Group G that includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany. His two-way, blue-collared style of play may not draw many eyeballs or fanfare, but it is an asset that Bedoya’s American teammates and Klinsmann value highly.
“He has a great engine on both sides of the ball, whether he’s getting forward or getting in good positions defensively to help the team,” said U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, who added that Bedoya is a good person to have in the locker room. “He’s a really unselfish player, he really gives everything he has for the team and that’s what matters most to him. But he’s also a player that has an eye for goal and gets in good spots as well to get crosses and get assists.
“I think he’s a player that’s dangerous, difficult to deal with because he’s nonstop the whole game, his fitness level is really high and I think he’s very effective because of that.”
That type of motor is likely why Klinsmann started Bedoya with many of the other lineup regulars in this past Tuesday’s 2-0 win vs. Azerbaijan. The U.S.’s tough competition at the World Cup will require the Americans to have fit players on the outside who can run at and tire opponents on the offensive end as well as put in the necessary work defensively, especially since the fullbacks might sometimes be caught overlapping up the field.
“I’m not the type of wide midfielder that’s a winger that’s going to stay on the touchline and paint my shoes white,” said Bedoya. “As you saw the last game, we kind of played a 4-4-2 diamond and I think that’s expected of the winger so to speak – me, Graham (Zusi), whoever it is playing out wide – to tuck inside and have them overlapping us.
“Me and Graham and some of the other guys we have here are box-to-box players so we’re expected to cover for them when they’re going forward and we lose the ball on a counterattack and likewise they’ll do the same for us.”
Being in a position to talk about the tactics of a World Cup squad was something Bedoya missed out four years ago, but his growth since then has made him a stronger and more confident player. Not only one that is headed for Brazil, but one that could potentially play a significant role as well.