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The Philadelphia Union have enjoyed a strong start to the 2019 Major League Soccer season, with the Chester outfit (at the time of writing) sitting second in the Eastern Conference. Captain Alejandro Bedoya has been crucial to their early success and so FloFC figured this would be a good time to catch up with the former Nantes and Rangers midfielder.
Bedoya spoke about the difference between the two LA teams, the Union’s continued struggle to draw home crowds, what went wrong for the USA in failing to make the 2018 World Cup, and his views on Jurgen Klinsmann. The 32-year-old also provided some city tips for anyone planning a trip to Philly.
FloFC: What has been the difference between this season and last season for the Philadelphia Union?
Alejandro Bedoya: I don’t think there’s been too big of a difference. Obviously the formation change is the big change, it sticks out, but we’re still trying to play the same way in terms of keep possession and play quicker when we have the ball, but also staying compact defensively and staying hard to break down. The biggest change for me with the formation change is we’re pressing higher up on the field and so that allows us to win the ball higher up and then counter-attack from a higher position, which leads to creating more chances.
It’s early in the season, so we’ve got to keep that in mind, but we’ve beaten teams that we should have been able to beat and the games we have lost, especially the first two losses of the season, were still games I felt we were a bit unlucky in.
There’s been a lot of chat about LAFC this season. Have the Philadelphia Union got the credit for their start that they deserve?
Obviously we’re not going to get the credit yet just because in terms of MLS market Philly hasn’t always been a club that has shown that they’re consistently capable of playing like this. But that was one of my ambitions coming here, was to put Philly on the map and gain that respect for this club. So here we are and I think we have been able to do that so far in terms of people not calling us this sleeper team. Everybody knows what we are about now.
Obviously LAFC had a strong season to build on from last year. That’s the stock that I’m buying because they’re a well-rounded, well-balanced team. The Galaxy, we played them away and we were unfortunate to concede two goals to Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]. He’s obviously a big difference maker, but it’s pretty much him or nothing for them, the way I see it. I played against them and in the second half I felt like we dominated them. Jonathan dos Santos is a really good player, but besides that it’s just pretty much Zlatan. I just see LAFC being a contender, not so much the Galaxy.
Strong form hasn’t translated into big crowds at Talen Energy Stadium. As players, is that frustrating?
As a player, we’re doing all we can do. We’re playing well, we’re near the top of the East, the other off the field stuff, that's not my role. I’m not the marketing director, I’m not the ownership group. I think there’s a lot of things that kind of don’t help. Recently, the Sixers were in the playoffs, a lot of focus was on them… Philly sports teams are doing really well. The Philly fans are lucky to have so many good clubs in the city, so we’re competing with that.
If you look at the Philly sports teams they’re all in this one area right by the center of the city and our stadium is 25 minutes, even more, south on I95. So the location isn’t the best. I’m a Latino guy, there’s a big Latin community that loves soccer, I don’t really see that community being a big part of the Union, and I think they’ve got to do better promoting that. I have seen some things here and there about transportation and trying to help people get to and from the city to the stadium, because like I said, it’s not easy. There’s no train stop here. I hope it’s going to get better and now the sun is shining, the weather is getting better, hopefully more people will come out and watch us as long as we keep performing.
You led a halftime team talk in a game against New England earlier this month. As captain, is something you do often? What kind of a captain are you?
It’s not an every game scenario. I let the coach do the talking and then when I get in the huddle and when the game starts and right after we come out after half time I’ll give my little spiel. But in games like that where I feel like I need to take the bull by the horns I will let them know what’s on my mind. My emotions on my sleeve sometimes. I’m a passionate guy, you can see that on the field as well, sometimes I gesticulate just a little bit too much. It’s just how I am. So a game like that game [against New England] where I felt that was a dangerous game for us, we could have taken them too lightly seeing that they were in last place. I knew our team was capable of way more than we were showing so I just kind of passed that along. So if I can read certain situations and it’s not good enough for me then I’m going to let them know that we need to pick it up.
Is the failure to quality for the 2018 World Cup something you think about? Or are you finally over it?
Yeah, you move on from it in terms of there’s nothing you can do about it anymore. But I’d be lying if I said the thought doesn’t cross my mind sometimes when you watch the national team play and, of course, guys like you, journalists, they always seem to ask something about that time so it brings back those memories. The way it ended, it was terrible. We should have definitely qualified.
For me as a player, obviously hindsight is 20-20, but I have no doubts that if I had played that last game, the way it was set up, an away game on a tough field which was really bad, that my tactical awareness and my style of play would have been well-suited for that type of game. I have no doubts that if I had played I think I would have helped the team qualify and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But it is what it is. You can’t change the past.
In your opinion, has enough been done to ensure that the USA doesn’t miss out on another World Cup?
I would hope so. Concacaf has got a lot better. The teams have improved. MLS has actually given an avenue for a lot of these players in Concacaf to improve and get better, but that’s no excuse for not qualifying. We still have some of the better players in the region. I would say as a whole I hope we don’t come too naive when we are playing these teams.
We need the youth generations to perform better because I would say the last cycle was a cycle was where there was a missing gap of players that you would have in the middle of your 20s that just wasn’t there because they just never lived up to the hype. I would hope that this new generation… I think they’re hungry, there’s a lot of talent coming up, and I think the hiring of the new coach, from what I’ve heard of him he’s very youth-oriented, he stresses the importance of each and every player’s role and I think it was important to have a defining style of play. This Gold Cup in the summer is going to be a big test and we will see what’s been happening in the past year and a half or so.
You played under three USMNT head coaches: Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena. Who did you enjoy playing under most?
That’s a tough one. Obviously Bob was the first one to bring me in and he has a very good soccer mind, he’s very tactics-oriented, very focused. Jurgen was the guy I played the most games under and I think even with his faults in terms of the tactical part of the game and some of the things he would do, he always wanted to get the best out of me and I was always one of the guys he could talk to straight up even if he was testing me all the time. Some players can’t handle that, but I was fine with it.
And then Bruce, he has a great resume, but he’s a great manager of players. His personality is probably the one I admire the most out of all of the coaches. I didn’t have him for as much time as the other coaches, but he came into a hard situation. I really think he regrets not playing me in that last game against Trinidad and Tobago if I’m honest with you. But he was trying his best to turn our team around. Everybody had their pros and cons. I’m grateful for all those guys who gave me an opportunity and let me be a part of the national team.
Was Jurgen Klinsmann harshly treated during his time as USMNT head coach?
I get it. It’s a results-based business and maybe he gave off the wrong impressions when he was changing stuff a lot. I think he had a lot of power within U.S. Soccer and I think that rubbed some people the wrong way. But as I say, I was maybe one of the guys that could deal with his s***, so to speak in terms of the way he communicates. I knew that when he was saying all this stuff to me it was just kind of like constructive criticism.
Even when he threw me under the bus in that game against Brazil, deploying me as a number six behind Jermaine Jones who likes to roam when I had never played there before against some of the best players in the world, I took that with a pinch of salt. And the fact that he gave me the confidence to be there, to be in that position, I knew that he trusted me and my style of play and he liked me as a player.
You went to Europe when you were young. Is MLS now a better place for young players?
Oh absolutely, yes. I didn’t have academies when I was growing up. But still to this day there are issues with young guys because when I first came to Philly I could see that the tactical awareness of the young kids coming into the league is a wider gap than when I first went to Europe. I’m glad I went to Sweden. We would sit down and watch videos for an hour, hour and a half, after or before training, just going over the games, the movement, the shifting, all that stuff.
Just simple, basic tactical awareness is what’s lacking from a lot of these youth players coming up. With that being said, I think there’s a lot more talent even here in the youth academy in Philadelphia. Some of the guys I train with, there’s some talented players and MLS has definitely given a lot of these young players opportunities to be a part of a professional environment.
I was in college 18 through 20 and I was limited in the number of hours I could actually train. The season only lasts three months and then after the season you would only be able to train eight hours maximum per week with the team. That’s absurd. But now you have MLS academies, most teams have affiliates in the lower leagues, USL, so it gives them more of a platform.
I still always say that if a good opportunity comes for a kid to go to Europe, because you’re not only going to mature as a player, you’re going to mature as a person as well, that helps a lot in a player’s mentality.
You’ve played in Sweden, Scotland, France, and the USA. What is the stadium you have enjoying playing in most?
Ibrox was great. The Old Firm derby, the atmosphere is just crazy electric, but the Nantes fans in France were just unbelievable. I would say when we had a game under the lights there, a big game against a big opponent, the atmosphere there was just awesome. That was one of my favorite places to play. I wish I’d had more time at Rangers, but playing three full years at Nantes and being a starter for most of the time there. Every time we would score a goal the fans would all run down to the bottom of that section. It was mayhem. That was cool.
You’re the CEO of a coffee brand, M.A.S Cafe. What makes a good cup of coffee?
Colombian coffee is right up there. My family is Colombian and we have a family member who is in the coffee business there. On my family’s farm we grow coffee there so the plan is to import the coffee beans into the States and sell it. We’re in the process of breaking ground on our first coffee shop down in Fort Lauderdale so that should be open within a year. We’re in a specialty coffee world so we only sell coffee that’s graded above 85.
You’re into art. What’s your favorite piece of art and why?
That’s tough. The art that I collect together with my wife is stuff that there’s an attachment to every piece for us. Whether that relates to where we met each other, or where we grew up or for our kids. Every piece isn’t just something that we like or that’s collectible so every one is pretty special to us.
Given your artistic eye, what do you think of the recent kit designs in MLS? Are they too bland?
If you look at the jerseys, everything is by one brand, right? I think everybody’s alternative jersey is just a white jersey with the logo on it, so they aren’t really that design-oriented or creative. I’m sure they could contact my art agency and see if we can get some artists on board to produce some nice stuff.
If I’m visiting Philadelphia, what’s the one thing I should do (besides go to a Union game)?
The touristy thing is you gotta get a cheesesteak. I’m not very fond of cheesesteaks, I would say cross that off the list. If you’re a movie guy, Rocky was filmed here. You can go to the Rocky steps and like you said, I’m art guy so those Rocky steps just so happen to go up into the Museum of Modern Art here in Philadelphia so you might as well go in there as well.
The food scene here is great. For me the best brunch spot here in the city is Cafe La Maude and then if you like Asian Fusion my favorite restaurant is Double Knot. If you like Lebanese, Mediterranean food there’s an area in Fishtown which is really hip, there’s a restaurant called Suraya. Fishtown is that up and coming place with cool bars and restaurants and things happening so go there.