Union

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya eager for Sunday opener at Vancouver

CHESTER, Pa. -- When Alejandro Bedoya came to Philadelphia last summer, it was a landmark moment in the Union’s relatively short history. 

But as with any player who arrives from Europe midway through the MLS season, there were some difficulties for Bedoya as he got settled with a new club and a new league. 

Now though, as the U.S. national team stalwart prepares to enter his first full MLS season as the team’s unquestioned leader and captain, there’s nothing holding him back.

“It’s starting to feel finally like home,” Bedoya said. “Philly’s starting to feel like a true home.” 

Bedoya certainly showcased some of his considerable skills last season after arriving from France’s FC Nantes, starting the final 10 games of the season and scoring one of the best goals of Philly’s 2016 season.

But the team never gained much traction with him in the midfield, going winless in their final eight games and getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round by eventual MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC.

For Bedoya, going through an offseason that allowed him and his family to get settled in Philadelphia and a full preseason that allowed him to show his personality to his new teammates was critical.

“I’m taking a more proactive approach,” Bedoya said. “Guys have been able to see what I’m all about. I hope I can bring my experience and my characteristics to make the team better. 

“It’s a good group of guys, to be honest. I’m really excited.”

Union head coach Jim Curtin announced Wednesday that Bedoya would wear the captain’s armband for the team’s 2017 opener at the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday -- a role he earned by taking on a leadership role during the past month in preseason camp in Florida.

Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu have been the team’s captain for much of the past two seasons but Edu is still recovering from an injury that kept him out of the entire 2016 campaign and the aging Carroll may struggle to find regular minutes.

For now, at least, this team belongs to Bedoya.

“He’s been a great leader all preseason,” Curtin said. “He’s been a player that’s played at the highest level internationally for the national team, for big clubs in Europe. He’s always been a really strong contributor. Now, the challenge he’s really stepped up to meet is to become more of the guy that everyone looks to for leadership. He’s embraced that role.”

Curtin hasn’t said exactly where Bedoya will play, but most signs indicate that he’ll be deployed as an attacking midfielder in front of string-pulling playmaker Haris Medunjanin -- a new addition to the club that, like Bedoya, boasts experience at both the World Cup and in Europe.

It’s a combination that the Union coach is very high on leading into the opener.

“I think it’s clear Ale and Haris have a real understanding for each other, a real respect for each other,” Curtin said. “They’re internationals that have played at the highest level at big clubs. Their experience speaks for itself. 

“They’re our leaders. They’re the guys who have been through the wars. This will be a tough game on the road in a hostile environment. The easiest way to put it is they’re two of our best players. And you always need your best players on the same page.”

Bedoya roomed with Medunjanin during the preseason, which helped the two get on the same page. Now, they’re ready to show it off in 2017 and control the middle of the field together for a team gunning to return to the postseason -- and win the club’s first-ever playoff game once they get there.

“I love playing with Haris,” Bedoya said. “Soccer sees soccer. We understand each other very well right away. He had a great experience in Europe. He has a great left foot, great vision, great passing range. We’re definitely comfortable finding each other.”

As for being the captain, Bedoya isn’t about to step on the toes of Carroll, the team’s longest-tenured player, or Edu, one of his best friends, who he’s eager to finally play with for the first time.

But he’s certainly ready to wear the armband whenever called upon and become a leader of a team he only got to know briefly last year.

“I like to lead by example,” Bedoya said. “And guys know they can feed off my energy.”