New fulcrum: What we saw in Alejandro Bedoya's Philadelphia Union debut
The question was one of the first posed to Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin as he sat at Alejandro Bedoya’s introductory press conference: Where would the U.S. national team standout fit in a crowded Union midfield?
Curtin smiled. There was a plan in place, he just wasn’t ready to unveil it. Really, there was only one right answer. Bedoya was the natural replacement for Vincent Nogueira as the No. 8 in the Union’s lineup.
On Saturday, Bedoya proved he could make a seamless transition into MLS with a diligent, if unremarkable, debut in Philadelphia’s 4-0 win over the New England Revolution. It was the Union’s first road win in five months, and things went about as smoothly as you can ask.
Bedoya wasn’t signed to be a flashy playmaker. On Saturday night, he served as a sort of fulcrum on which the Union pivoted. Bedoya connected passes in the midfield. He found the overlapping fullbacks, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho, with regularity. It was exactly the role Nogueira had played so well over the last few seasons for the Union, one which had not been truly replaced since the Frenchman’s departure in mid-June.
Nogueira led the Union in passing in all but one of the eight games he played this season. His average passes per game was 57.8, far exceeding the next Union midfielder, Tranquillo Barnetta, who has averaged 38.4 passes per game, including contests in which he was asked to play an expanded on-ball role over the last two months.
In 71 minutes of play against the Revolution, Bedoya led the Union by completing 39 of 45 passes, an 87 percent efficiency rate. He was effective in the final third, connecting on 12 of 14 passes there, and he showed a solid understanding of the players around him.
It was a selfless performance, and it was an encouraging one.
The Union dominated the game, and none of it centered around anything special Bedoya did. Rather, Philadelphia looked like a more complete team, and the pieces around Bedoya worked more proficiently with the Nantes transfer running the game from a deeper role in midfield.
Sometimes it’s not about the flash and the sexy passes. It’s about doing the little things and being the connective piece that makes the machine work smoothly. With Bedoya running the show, the Union did the things that have gotten it to this point this season: the fullbacks overlapped and provided solid service cutting back to the Union’s playmakers on the attacking line; C.J. Sapong beasted as a target man; wingers Chris Pontius and Ilsinho slashed inside to cause problems for New England’s back line.
Behind it all was Bedoya, who was happy to sit behind the play and pick out the open spaces and open teammates. It was an important role, but it also just a part of the grander picture. And Bedoya wasn’t even asked to put in the type of defensive work that has made him such a valuable part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans with the U.S. national team.
Philadelphia had won just once in its previous seven games and the magic of what was ramping up to be a surprise season had seemingly worn off. In truth, it was simply that the Union had not found anyone to replace Nogueira in Curtin’s system. With Bedoya in place, the midfield is complete. Adding Maurice Edu into the mix as a No. 6 to pair with his former Rangers teammate may make the Union’s midfield even more formidable.
Saturday’s win at least puts the Union right back in the thick of things in an Eastern Conference race that could go down to the final weeks of the season. If the 4-0 win over the Revs is any indication, Philadelphia could be one of the tougher outs in the postseason.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.