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Bedoya ready for the ‘real stuff’ to start again

After the long offseason, the Philadelphia Union captain, who recently signed a contract extension, is ready for the 2020 campaign to officially kick off

Photo by Morgan Tencza

Earlier this week I had a chance to chat with Alejandro Bedoya at the Power Training Complex to get his read on the upcoming season and talk about his style on and off the pitch as the team’s engine and leader.

The interview took place the day before a contract extension was announced that will keep Bedoya in Chester for at least two more seasons with an option for the 2022 campaign.

So, here we are, the first game is this weekend. How are you feeling about the season?

I’m just anxious to get started. You know the preseason can be just a grind. I’m ready to get back to the fun stuff, which is play games. You get those game day butterflies and go back to your routine. It’s just fun.

You have been the engine of this team since 2016. You are the Captain. What kind of Captain are you? What style do you employ?

I think there’s all types of styles and different types of leaders, but for me I try to lead by example by doing on the field things first and foremost. I think you can see the way I play I’m putting everything into it. I’ll have bad games sure where technically I’m not at my best and this and that, but the effort is always going to be there right? I think people will respect that from me. That no matter what happens, I’m there giving it my all and going to battle through injury and do whatever it takes to win. That’s my competitive spirit. People feed off that. Then inside the locker room I’m just a hoot, I’m the guy, I love to have fun, crack jokes, make pranks loosen the guys up you know? So, I think the respect comes first from the field because they see my demeanor and how I carry myself.

Then when I’m in the locker room or even off the field or in between play or in between training sessions I’m able to really talk with anybody. Whether it’s a young guy or an experienced guy I can just have a face to face and be a guy to them a regular dude who likes to have fun. I’ve obviously earned their respect from on the field stuff. Then off the field stuff I’m somebody [available] you can always come to me and feel comfortable talking to. I’m not going to talk down to you or act like I’m better than you or know more than you, I always listen to what they have to say.

From the beginning I was rooming with [Anthony] Fontana one of the young kids and we just hit it off. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much older I am than them. I’m going to try and help you out and based off my experience of what I’ve accomplished in my career, I will give feedback and advice and I’m not going to shy away from giving my opinions and thoughts and I think people appreciate that. I’m also a loose kind of guy and I’m not so serious and I like to have fun.

Now we have Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie playing on the National Team. Obviously, you have a great deal of experience in that department. Are you able to help them out?

Yeah, I would say Brenden is the one I’ve talked to more. Mark is a guy that is beyond his age, carries himself like a grown 40-year-old man sometimes (Laughs). Brenden is always kind of listening, talking and he’s out there. Last year he and Haris had developed a good relationship, it’s kind of the tough love thing with Brenden. He looks so small out there like a Teddy Bear kind of guy we kind of get tough with him just because we believe in him so much, he is so talented. The same with Mark you know so, I think what you see is a nice mix of teaching him what to expect because he did come to me about what’s it like in camp and this and that and just giving him some of my experiences and also being hard on him too because we believe in him so much.

You’d like to see (Brenden) develop and turn into the player that I know he’s capable of being. I think this year is going to be very good for him as he steps into the next phase of his career, now he’s not the new guy anymore. He’s still a young kid but now he’s a known entity. He is going to have to deal with that, to deal with higher expectations he’ll want to take his game to the next level. So it will be interesting to see how much Mark and Brenden both develop this year. They are both very much our guys. These are two guys that maybe the Union will be able to sell to a bigger league in Europe or whatnot because that is the strategy the club has embraced.

The Union have embraced a strategy of developing young players bringing them up through the Academy. How do you feel about that? For instance, I’m also a Chelsea fan, they have an owner with deep pockets and until this year rarely signed their academy kids to the first team. They prefer to go out and buy top dollar players. How do feel about being on the other side of the spectrum?

Yeah, it’s not always easy you know, I’m an ambitious guy. Part of the reason I chose to come to Philadelphia was because of the challenge to make Philadelphia a respectable club. Even when I was playing in Europe, I would hear stories that if you were playing the Union no one feared them and if I went there, I would try to make a change to that culture and get to winning. I think it’s tough because sometimes I think sometimes the ambitions don’t align with what you’re trying to do. With the way the team is spending or whatever it is. The numbers are there, we are at the bottom of tier of spending when compared to the rest of the league.

However, every club is different. This club wants to develop young players and I see what Richie has built at YSC, I don’t know if you have had a chance to go there. It’s amazing the kind of system the young players have there to continue their education but also to have access to the soccer facilities that they have there.

I think it’s hard for fans to be patient but now it’s coming to fruition where a lot of those kids are part of the first team. Some of them have been able to perform and do well, some of them still need to continue their development and make that transition better. I always stress to them; the Fontanas and Reals and all these other guys. The easy part is that you made it to the first team. Now it’s about consistency, that’s the hard part. Don’t think you made it just because you have a first team contract because you still have a long way to go. The next young kid who is coming up also wants to be on this team and he can take your spot. Football changes very, very fast. I try to stress that to them.

The next phase is the McKenzies and Aaronsons because the club invested in their development with the youth academy system. Can we develop them further and then get these players sold abroad in Europe? It doesn’t matter to me but I think owners need to make some of their money back (laughter). It is tough because we’re coming off our best year in club history. I know you had fun, I had an enjoyable season, the owners are happy everybody had a good time being part of the playoff energy and getting that first win you kind of want to keep that momentum going but I think they are very set on making the team younger and younger and with the certain style of play we’re going to play this season with the 4-4-2 Diamond that way we want to press it takes a lot and I think the young kids are going to have to play a big, big significant role.

You can’t always count on the youth, you know. They do lack experience, some of them don’t really develop and transition into that first team environment. It’s not always easy, how do you maintain a good balance. How do you do that? Well, that’s what they have to try and figure out. The next phase is I would like to see some of these go and play for a big team in Europe.

Do you get any say in the development of the players or the buying and selling being the Captain?

No, I don’t, I don’t at all. I think there will be times in the end of the year meetings where you sit down with the technical staff for a season review. They will go over how things went and what they plan to do next year. As a Captain and a person who isn’t afraid to add my opinions, I will let them know what I feel from my prospective and what I would like and this and that. There really is some talk but not much with the Management Group or with Ernst he is not generally in contact with his players, that is our job.

So, you are now over 30…

What are you trying to say? (laughter)

I’m trying to say that being a 62-year-old man, I watch you in amazement with that high motor it just doesn’t stop, you have played almost every minute of every season. Have you had to make adjustments to your game and your style as your age creeps up?

It is funny that you bring that up because going into this year that has crossed my mind a little bit. Because I’d like to play until I’m 38. The goal I set for myself was 36. But I’d love to able to play until I’m 38 – 40. To heck with it, right? So I’ve thought hey, maybe I shouldn’t make as many runs as I do to try and get behind defenses, maybe I should just hold my position you know make less of those runs and guard my body a little bit more but then again the other part of my brain tells me that’s not the guy I am.

I’ve always been this type of player. I’ve always had good stamina, good endurance, I’ve always been a team guy who makes those runs not always just to get on the end of things but that’s the way I’ve taught to play the game. With my movement it opens up other lanes and alleys for the other guys to move in to be open. It’s part of my game but so far, I’ve been able to do a good job at taking care of my body. I’m lucky my wife is a physiotherapist, which is helpful because I don’t always need to come in here and get treatment. I can stay at home and get some dry needling or I’ll all this type of stuff to help take care of my body and my kids too. We all try to be as healthy as we can.

What was your favorite moment of last season?

Oh, for sure that playoff win. Personally, like me yeah I scored in the last minute against FC Dallas and that was cool.

Do you know about the rivalry Philly fans have with Dallas?

Because of the Cowboys? I didn’t really consider that. It was loud when I scored that goal, I know that. But the playoff game was the best playing in a light rain, overtime, coming back from 2 down twice and we scored the winner that is when I felt the stadium rock. The fans were going crazy what a feeling that was.

You’ve played games in a lot of cities in Europe. How do Philly fans compare to those European fans you’ve played in front of?

That’s a tough one. You know I’ve played a lot of my career in Europe. There they eat, sleep, breathe, dream football so I guess it’s different in that sense. Even in Sweden or Glasgow those fans are crazy. At FC Nantes I think the cool thing was that every time you scored a goal or did something great one section of fans would all go down to field level in a stampede, so those fans are awesome. You’d go out and get recognized. Here in Philly it’s not so much like that. I have been recognized in the city and that’s cool, but I would say at Glasgow and at FC Nantes they would show up for training sessions. Here not so much. At the training sessions in Europe, the fans will let you know if they are happy or not so much.

But there is more in the stadium. I’ve felt it way more in the stadium I feel it way more in the Stadium, like going back in the tunnel with the Sons of Ben and from the side they will let you know what they think of they’ll let you know if you’re having a bad game. That’s what I like about Philly. I like the passion. I’m a passionate guy and I like to hear from them and I feed off of that I’m not afraid to get involved with somebody if they give me stick, I’ll say something back. I think they like that too, you know. That you care.

What is your outlook for the coming season?

I touched a little bit on it before. This year is the year that I think we are going to full into this whole new tactical formation the 4-4-2 Diamond. We are going to be a high pressing team, try to turn over teams in their half so that we’re higher up the field creating more chances to goal. It’s kind of a new system from when I first got here but it’s a system that has a lot of good potential, but everybody has to be on the same page.

You can’t have one guy who’s going to be slower to press. It has to be synchronized; I think. It’s going to be a work in progress. I think we’ve got a good mix of older veteran guys with young guys and new guys. I’m excited to see how the new signings will develop and come to play an important role because we’ve gotten a lot younger. We’ve got a lot of new younger faces on this team, so we’ll see. In preseason so far, we’ve done some good things but now the real stuff starts we’re ready. We’ll see.