FRISCO, Texas – The United States national limped across the finish line to calendar year 2014 with losses to Colombia and Ireland. That stinking loss on the Emerald Isle was a particular bummer; the United States finished on the business end of a 4-1 beat-down to the Irish, the kind of European middleweight with which the United States should be competitive now, at the very least.
But one American performance generally rose above his peers in those two contests: that of Alejandro Bedoya.
As 2014 finished, the Nantes midfielder was coming off his best year in pro soccer. He played in all four U.S. matches at last summer’s World Cup and was a valued, ongoing presence for his Ligue 1 club in France.
At 27 years old (last fall), Bedoya was exactly the kind of guy U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann could build around as the next World Cup cycle got off the ground. Bedoya was a versatile attacker, probably best out wide but serviceable in interior spots, and a dependably diligent grinder wherever he was needed.
So it was really a bummer when a lingering knee injury kept Bedoya out of those two high-profile U.S. friendlies last month. At a time when he should have been on the field, securing his place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers ahead, Bedoya was sitting on a frustrating idle, pinging from doctor to doctor while laboring to unravel why a relatively minor knee ailment was keeping him on the sidelines.
Finally, after becoming frustrated with doctors at Nantes, Bedoya consulted with the U.S. national team staff and, after a little more rest, got things sorted out.
Now Bedoya is ready to get going again – or just about so.
“I feel better and better every day,” he said Monday as the team held its second training session in suburban Dallas. “I feel like with every game we play [in training], with every small-sided game or whatever, I am more than keeping up with everybody.”
The Americans open CONCACAF Gold Cup play Tuesday night against Honduras. Panama and Haiti are also in the group, from which Klinsmann’s team should comfortably emerge. Neither Panama nor Honduras will be a pushover, but as 8 of 12 teams advance into the tournament’s knockout stage from group play, the safe bet is for U.S. to advance with little trouble.
That should give Bedoya opportunity to work into the tournament and, with a little luck, be close to full fitness and sharpness for tougher opposition ahead. Mexico awaits, the brackets having been calculated to arrange a potential U.S.-El Tri championship clash.
The United States secures the 2017 Confederations Cup berth by winning the Gold Cup. If someone else takes the CONCACAF prize, they’ll play the Americans (winners of the 2013 Gold Cup) for the Confederations Cup berth. Russia, Germany, Australia and Chile already have half of the Confeds Cup field spoken for.
Bedoya said it’s not just a matter of playing, but also managing a schedule that sees the United States playing three first-round matches over seven days; they face Haiti on Friday outside Boston and then Panama on July 13 (Monday) in Kansas City. So Bedoya will almost certainly get minutes, most likely in one of the wide midfield spots. Graham Zusi and DeAndre Yedlin filled those flank spots in the U.S. 4-4-2 alignment during last week’s comfortable 4-0 win over Guatemala.
“I’ve been able to get through the full training sessions, but the fitness issues that comes with this is being able to play all 90 minutes and then [managing] the recovery between games that come every three days,” Bedoya said. “So that’s what we’re working with right now, trying to get my full fitness up. It’s more than just running and doing suicides [shuttle sprints] that I was doing after my injury. But I’m getting there, and the numbers are looking good.”
Bedoya would love a quick return back into that same form of late 2014. He was one of the hardest workers on the field in west London in the loss to Colombia, among the precious few U.S. men able to cope with possession and create scoring opportunities. It was more of the same a few days later in Ireland, where his evening was widely singled out as a bright spot in an otherwise highly forgettable punctuation mark on the 2014 men’s national team year.
The Gold Cup is the first non-friendly test of 2015.
“We have a lot of experience here,” he said. “We know that anything other than winning this Gold Cup is going to be a disappointment.”
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk.
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