CHESTER -- Philadelphia Union captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya knows what it takes to sustain a long professional career in Europe.
Bedoya came to the Union in 2016 after time with Orebro, Rangers, Helsingborgs and Nantes from 2009-16.
The 34-year-old's experience has been vital to the Union's play on the field and he has been key in the development of some of the club's Homegrown Players over the last few seasons.
:”I think I’ve grown in that role over time," Bedoya said in Chester on Wednesday. "The way this club is set up there’s so much youth development. Just the way I am off the field helps too. I love having fun. They know when I mean business between the white lines."
Bedoya's veteran presence helped former Union midfielder and current Red Bull Salzburg player Brenden Aaronson with his development during his time in Major League Soccer.
"Since Day 1 with Brenden (Aaronson) here, I saw so much potential and so did Haris (Medunjanin)," Bedoya said. "It’s just about little things. Some of them are staying after working on their passing, finishing, crossing, technical stuff."
Bedoya is currently helping the latest crop of Homegrown Players acclimate to MLS and work toward their goals of playing in Europe.
Nathan Harriel is the latest pupil to come under the MLS spotlight. Harriel started the last two games at right back and he has worked closely with Bedoya, who typically starts on the right side of midfield in the 4-4-2 diamond formation.
“Guys get chances for various reasons," Bedoya said. "(Olivier) Mbaizo was away at AFCON so he wasn’t with us preparing for preseason. Nathan was. Even from last year, I’ve seen (Nathan) grow tremendously in confidence and his vision. The game has slowed down a bit for him," Bedoya said.
"When (Harriel)’s on the ball, he sees the soccer better. That’s something we were able to work on in preseason," Bedoya said. "I think it’s so important to get those partnerships right. He’s on my side and it’s just about talking to him and using my experience to speak to him and let him know what I think that he should do. He talks to me and we have a great relationship off the field too. He’s someone who is always curious and wanting to grow and staying after training to get better on his crossing, or passing in between the lines. I think he’s grown tremendously and I think he’s shown that he can play at this level as a starter. He’s only going to keep getting better."
Harriel has the direct interactions with Bedoya because of their roles. Most of the other Homegrown Players stick out to Bedoya because of how willing they are to progress their careers.
"I sit right between them in the morning locker room. I’m always listening to their talks. They are curious and want to learn. I relish that now. I wouldn’t say right when I got here I was that way, but now I’ve grown into my role as a captain and a leader and I’m giving as much as I can. I know what it was like when I was their age trying to break into a club in Europe. It’s not easy because of all the egos and personalities, but thankfully on this team, we don’t really have that because we have a good culture in the locker room," Bedoya said.
The pathway for American players to get into European clubs is much easier than when Bedoya joined Swedish club Orebro in 2009 out of college.
Four Union players were called into the United States U-20 squad for two matches in Argentina during the upcoming international window. Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan, Brandan Craig and Paxten Aaronson will be part of that group.
“Perceptions have changed and that’s a credit to the American players that have done well on the national team and aboard and have opened the doors up," Bedoya said. "This club has shown it can develop players that not just play in MLS, but abroad too. I think that’s awesome. Guys like Brenden and Mark (McKenzie) showed what the possibilities are."
"I continue to tell these kids to become a professional is not just about signing a first-team contract," Bedoya said. "Consistency is so hard at this level. It’s just day in and day out coming in with the right attitude. You are not always going to play well or train well, but you at least need to have that work rate and willingness to want to get better. It shouldn’t just be about their end goal. Turning pro this early means you have some talent and you should make use of it."
Brenden Aaronson will represent the United States men's national team as it tries to secure a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in its final three Concacaf World Cup qualifying matches in the same international window.
“It’s really cool to see how it all started and their growth,' Bedoya said. "With Brenden, we worked so hard. He had such good hips and being able to turn with the ball quickly. You see him now he’s so good at shifting his body and I can tell you he stayed after here working with me, Haris and the guys. We were working on that stuff. All of these guys are willing to work. It’s awesome. I rate all of them really high."
Bedoya and the current stable of Philadelphia Union Homegrowns take on New York City FC on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The Union lost to NYCFC in the Eastern Conference Final last season in a match that was marred by positive COVID-19 tests within the Union squad.
Some outside observers may think the Union are out for revenge in that game, but the squad is treating it like a typical fourth match of the season.
“I can only control what I can control," Bedoya said. "The whole thing sucked. It was terrible. That was our best chance to win the cup. Circumstances didn’t allow it. You can call it revenge, whatever you want to. At the end of the day, it’s just another game in a new season. We’re just trying to do as well, or be even better, than last year. Hopefully we can play our best game on a crap field and get a result. I’m looking forward to it. New York is always a good challenge and a quality team."