By Ridge Mahoney
Very little of the speculation swirling about the U.S. national team regarding how the team will line up Sunday in the absence of Jozy Altidore has touched Alejandro Bedoya, which is just fine with him.
Bedoya started in the Group G opener against Ghana and put in a solid shift before leaving in the 77th minute. A nice pass created a chance for Altidore before a strained hamstring forced the striker out of the game. Bedoya began hobbling after a hard collision and eventually departed. He’s healthy for the Portugal game but his role will likely change.
“I had a little hip pointer in the first half, said Bedoya after the USA returned to Sao Paulo. “It’s an injury that I’ve had before, so it was bothering me a lot, but I just cramped up as well in my hamstring when I tried to block that last cross right before I came off. So, it was a little bit of both things, but I should be alright."
His replacement, Graham Zusi, swung over the corner kick that John Brooks headed home for a spectacular winner. With Altidore out, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann could start Aron Johannssonor Chris Wondolowski at forward with Clint Dempsey, or play Dempsey up top with five midfielders in support. That could produce a starting spot for Zusi out wide or Mix Diskerudin the middle, or yet another variation.
There’s no guarantee Bedoya will keep his starting spot but amid all the shifting and tinkering implemented by Klinsmann, he’s been picked far more often than not.
“Alejandro Bedoya made a huge step forward over the last two years, especially last year when he broke through in a very strong French league,” says Klinsmann. “He's played some very good games against big names.”
Since joining French club Nantes a year ago after stints in Sweden and Scotland, Bedoya, 27, has rather quietly cemented a regular spot. He missed the cut for the 2010 squad, though former head coach Bob Bradley did name him to the preliminary 30-man roster. Klinsmann monitored his career in Europe, which took him through the nightmarish meltdown of legendary Scottish club Rangers -- where he was a teammate of Carlos Bocanegraand Maurice Edu -- and back to Sweden, and then finally to France, where he occasionally lined up at right back for Nantes and for survival needed to upgrade his defensive game. Yet he also managed six goals in all competitions for the Canaris.
Bedoya's defensive acumen and experience in Europe are reasons he often starts in place of Zusi, though the competition for spots is constant under Klinsmann. Former Revs assistant coach Paul Mariner, who scouted Bedoya when he earned all-American status in 2007 and 2008 with Boston College, gives the New Jersey native a lot of credit for keeping a spot under pressure from such a talented player.
“I was a little surprised he started ahead of Zusi,” says Mariner, whose playing resume includes more than 500 games in the English League and 35 caps (13 goals) for England and is now an analyst on ESPN's ESPN FC. “This is no knock against MLS, but it’s hard to argue that if you’ve been playing in one of the top leagues in Europe, the quality of opposition week-in and week-out is a little bit better. So you’re a little bit more battle-hardened, more tactically aware, and so on.
“He wasn’t someone you would say would go No. 1 [in the SuperDraft]. He wasn’t that type of a player. He was an excellent team player. We saw him a lot because we’d go down to the college to see the ACC teams. At the time, it was the strongest conference and you always wanted see their boys come in and play. I remember him playing in the wider areas and just working so hard all the time. I just spied him as a total team player.”
Klinsmann obviously sees Bedoya the same way: as a good man to have on both sides of the ball. Bedoya -- who ended up bypassing MLS and going to Sweden's Orebro, following another former BC player, Charlie Davies, started his pro career there -- is skillful and effective in the attacking third; he netted his first U.S. goal last summer in a 6-0 defeat of Guatemala that served as a tune-up for the 2013 Gold Cup, during which he earned three assists. He can play the linking ball as well: in the final warmup match against Nigeria, his pass to Fabian Johnson led to the cross from which Altidore scored the first U.S. goal.
Bedoya comes from good soccer stock forged in Colombia: his father, Adriano Bedoya, played for Millonarios, and his maternal grandfather, Fabio, represented Deportes Quindio. Adriano came to the USA in 1981 on a soccer scholarship from Farleigh Dickinson and stayed in the USA to start a family with his wife, Julieta, and build his business career. When Alejandro was 9, the family moved from New Jersey to Florida, where Alejandro soon displayed the soccer ability stamped into his DNA.
The bond between father and son is very close. Adriano left the formal coaching to others, preferring the job of father and No. 1 supporter.
In a ussoccer.com video, Bedoya says, “Whenever there’s been ups and downs, he’s always been there for me. That’s the type of guy he is. He’s a very emotional guy, and for that I’m grateful. I take that with me everywhere I go.”
Adriano and Julieta and Fabio are in Brazil, as are his siblings Santiago and Marcela, and various coaches and former teammates, along with relatives from Colombia. Some World Cup teams greatly restrict activities away from the team, but not the USA.
“I think the cool thing is also having our family and friends here, some of them are coming along for the ride and sharing this experience with them,” says Bedoya. “In Natal, we were able to spend some time with them. We can go to their hotel, they can come to our hotel and that is very important, because mentally, you can’t just be focused the whole time, you need some time to wind down.”
The USA team has since traveled to Manaus, where a showdown with the reigning World Player of the Year and a desperate foe awaits. Humiliated by Germany, 4-0, in their opening game, the Portuguese have little choice but to push for victory. Their play flows through Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, but counterpart Nani can also scorch opponents on the opposite wing. The flanks, which is where Bedoya normally plays, will be vital territory to control.
“Portugal is going to be a tough game,” he says. “It’s football, anything can happen. Based on past World Cups, sometimes four points isn’t even enough so I don’t think we’ve gone that far to think that if we get a draw, we are safe in the group. I think we are trying to go out against Portugal and win that game, and then we don’t have to think about anything.”