Alejandro Bedoya: Bringing Belief to the USA
Four years ago, Alejandro Bedoya’s World Cup dreams were dashed when US coach Bob Bradley made the then 23-year-old one of the last players cut from his squad for South Africa. At the time, Bedoya was plying his trade in Sweden, establishing himself as a central figure at Örebro SK. Since then, he’s played for four different clubs (including Örebro) and sometimes struggled for regular playing time. Yet in May of 2014, he found himself on the plane to Brazil with a shot at a starting position. What happened? Determination happened. Nantes happened.
The summer after his World Cup heartbreak, Bedoya decided it was time to elevate the level of his competition and left Sweden for Rangers, hoping to play alongside fellow Americans Maurice Edu and Carlos Bocanegra. His Scottish adventure did not, however, work out quite as Bedoya had planned and, as Edu made his 100th appearance for the club and Bocanegra quickly became a fan favorite, their countryman struggled with seemingly endless niggling injuries and found it almost impossible to force himself in the side, making only five starts and appearing in just over a dozen matches. So, when Rangers went into liquidation and dropped into the lower Scottish divisions, Bedoya made an unexpected return to Sweden with Helsingborgs IF, seeking both to recharge his confidence and catch the eye of new USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The American scored a spectacular goal on his first appearance for his new club and ultimately spent a full year with Helsingborgs, playing nearly twice as many matches as he had during his season at Rangers, most as a starter. The regular appearances and the consistency of his play earned Bedoya his first call-ups from Klinsmann and he featured prominently at the Gold Cup, providing three assists and starting the final in which the US defeated Panama. With the summer over and World Cup 2014 on his mind, Bedoya again packed his bags, this time joining newly promoted Nantes on a free transfer, a move which made him the first American ever to play for Les Canaris.
The leap from the Allsvenskan to Ligue 1 is a not inconsiderable one, but Bedoya made it with remarkable ease, particularly considering the fact that his late arrival at Nantes caused him to miss essentially the entire preseason. Despite that, he settled in quickly and ultimately played 32 matches and scored six goals in all competitions, including winners in 1-0 victories over Ajaccio and Marseille. Perhaps in part because of that missing preseason, it took coach Michel Der Zakarian a long time to find the best position for Bedoya and, in his first six matches for Nantes, the American was played in four different spots: right mid, left mid, center mid, and right back. The fact that Der Zakarian kept using Bedoya, however, speaks volumes about what might be his most important qualities for the US – his commitment and his work rate. No matter where he played for his new club, his coach saw him as an asset, praising Bedoya’s technical ability and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. Though Bedoya has said he prefers to play centrally (the position he occupied most effectively for Nantes), he doesn’t consider himself a true number 10, and his willingness to get stuck in wherever he’s asked to play only makes him that much more appealing to Klinsmann, who is currently playing Bedoya on the outside of a diamond midfield, and expects him both to create and put in a good defensive shift.
And Klinsmann isn’t only impressed by Bedoya’s flexibility. Time and again, he’s praised the player for the progress he’s made in France, clearly delighted with Bedoya’s decision to move to a stronger league. When Bedoya returned to the national team during his time at Helsingborgs, Klinsmann made a comment about the need to “continue to build” his talent and, now, talks about what Bedoya learned from his games against high quality players, and clubs “like PSG and Marseille.” Klinsmann is clearly invested in Bedoya and his career, sending him text messages after big matches, and calling him with good wishes as the Ligue 1 season came to close. Everything the player has done since he joined Rangers was done with an eye on Brazil; with the goal of convincing Klinsmann. And, now, he’s convinced.
Bedoya certainly has his detractors, both in the US and in France, but he feels Ligue 1 suits him, and his confidence is higher now than perhaps it’s ever been. Suddenly, he’s in a position to make a real impact for his country at the World Cup, something he couldn’t even have dreamed of three years ago when he was lying on a treatment table in Glasgow.