Analysis

Bedoya gives Philadelphia a new maestro in the middle

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The USMNT midfielder's arrival gives Jim Curtin depth to manage a playoff push. As Paul Tenorio notes, it also gives the Union a new conductor in midfield.

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The news became official on Wednesday just more than 12 hours before the close of the secondary MLS transfer window: U.S. national team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is bound for the Philadelphia Union.

The signing was met immediately by the question of where, exactly, Bedoya will fit in the Union’s midfield. Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin told the press his staff knows exactly the role Bedoya will play, though they did not want to share that information ahead of Bedoya’s debut with the team.

“That has been laid out,” Curtin said. “He has played as winger, he has played as a second forward, he has played as a 10 and as a No. 8 in Copa America in hotly-contested, high-level games. He has shown he has a versatile skillset.”

The Union have played mostly a 4-2-3-1 lineup with Ilsinho on the right, Roland Alberg at the No. 10 and Chris Pontius on the left wing. C.J. Sapong plays alone up top as a target striker, and Tranquillo Barnetta and Brian Carroll command the defensive midfield. Barnetta dropped back to the No. 8 after the departure of Vincent Nogueira, but it hasn’t been a perfect fit. Warren Creavalle has also started in that role this season.

Bedoya has played in multiple spots during his career overseas and with the U.S. national team. He has played on either wing, at the No. 10 and No. 8 in midfield. With the Union, there are two places that look like the best fit for Bedoya. The national teamer can slide into the No. 8 spot in the 4-2-3-1, pushing Barnetta back into the No. 10 and moving either Ilsinho or Alberg to the bench. The Union could also make a slight tweak to the shape and play a 4-3-3 that gets their best pieces on the field at the same time.

In that secondary formation, Bedoya would play underneath Alberg along with Barnetta, and Pontius and Ilsinho would play higher up the wings on either side of Sapong. The reintroduction of Maurice Edu to the lineup would likely see the former USMNT midfielder slide into a center back job.

While the 4-3-3 sacrifices defensive cover by putting Carroll on the bench during another strong year from the longtime MLS veteran, it would also give the Union a midfield capable of dominating possession. Bedoya’s defensive work rate also would help to cover space in front of the back line. His work rate both centrally and on the wing during this summer’s Copa America Centenario may have been the most impressive part of Bedoya’s performances.

In all likelihood, however, Bedoya’s presence now gives the Union five players for four spots on the field, which is not as much a dilemma as the luxury of depth, something that is all too rare in MLS. Could it potentially create some tough decisions for Jim Curtin? Yes. However, there will be plenty of games in which players are out due to injury or suspension, and Curtin now has the necessary depth to move pieces around.

Whether he plays deeper in midfield or higher up the field, Bedoya gives the Union another player who can hold the ball in midfield but also track back defensively. It’s the type of player that has been missing in this team since Nogueira’s departure, and with Bedoya in place, the Union can make a push for the postseason.

Nogueira led Philadelphia in passes per game at 57.8. No midfielder averages more than Carroll’s 38.1. That should change with Bedoya now in the lineup. He will be the player that dictates things for Philadelphia.

“He brings us a boost at the right moment,” Curtin said. “In summer time with 12 games left, [at a time for the] push for playoffs. And we don’t want to just get in the playoffs, we want to make noise in the playoffs.”

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.