Major League Soccer has its flaws, and U.S. national team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya hasn’t always been shy about pointing a few of them out on his engaging and occasionally provocative Twitter account. He did so again on Tuesday as he was officially unveiled as a member of the Philadelphia Union, poking fun at the convoluted transfer process that involved three clubs and required Bedoya’s new team to fork over money, a first-round draft pick and other “only in MLS” considerations (general and targeted allocation money, discovery priority for an unnamed player) to the Chicago Fire for the right to acquire him from Nantes.
“It was a lot more complicated and confusing than it needed to be with this league—with TAM and whatever it’s called, GAM. Throw in my buddy Sam and Cam and you get me or something. Yeah, it was quite the process,” Bedoya said Tuesday as he met the media in Chester, Pennsylvania.
“The whole process took longer than expected,” he said. “I think everybody knows that Chicago reached out to me. They were the No. 1 [in the MLS allocation order]. I had a conversation with their coach. I honestly thought I was going there for sure. But you know with MLS, there’s a lot of twists and turns and that didn't work out for whatever reasons. I think think Columbus was in there as well. At the end of the day I’m happy I ended up in Philly.”
He’s happy, despite the league’s imperfections, for a good number of reasons. Bedoya, now 29, left Boston College for Sweden in 2008 and has spent his adult life in Europe. He enjoyed two stints in the Allsvenskan, spent a season at Rangers FC and then moved to Nantes in 2013. He now has a 16-month-old son. Returning to the U.S. will allow him to be close to family for the first time in a long time.
“There’s bigger things here than soccer too,” he said.
It also will afford him some of the same opportunities that enticed the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey (beside the money). In Philadelphia, Bedoya will be the centerpiece rather than a complement. He’ll be the focus, a leader, a player counted on to lift his new club to levels previously unattained. For all his success during eight seasons in Europe, Bedoya didn’t typically play under that sort of spotlight or burden. The Union haven’t made the MLS playoffs since 2011. Now, at 8-8-7 and five points above the red line, there are no excuses.
Union sporting director Earnie Stewart called Bedoya, “Somebody we can add to our core group right now that has that experience to bring us over the line … He checks all those boxes that we believe a player of the Philadelphia Union has to have.”
He’s signed through the 2019 season and will earn an annual salary approaching $1 million, according to reports.
Bedoya insisted on Tuesday that getting Philly over that hump represents a genuine test, and that he proved throughout his European sojourn that he’s a player who doesn’t search for an easy way out. MLS may have its quirks, but the parity and travel, among other things, present a challenge.
“Wherever I’ve been, I’ve met the challenge in front of me. I think there’s been a handful of not more than 10 Americans that have been playing consistently for a top team in Europe, in a top league, and I’ve been doing that. So for me, for people who want to say I’m taking the easy way coming back to MLS, it’s a lot of BS because I’ve done the hard stuff and I’ve been able to perform in Europe on a top club like Nantes in one of the best leagues. And I’m coming here for a bunch of different reasons, and one of them now is another new challenge that’s in front of me, trying to be part of this Philly team and taking them into the playoffs and making a run.”
This Union team is relatively balanced in midfield and it’s not immediately apparent where Bedoya will play. He performed in a more central attacking role for Nantes, but he’s often deployed on the flank by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and he also boasts the work rate and full-field vision to play as a box-to-box midfielder. His has said in the past that his versatility might have worked against him—he’s not always an obvious or easy fit—but he’s demonstrated an ability to find what a given game needs and a comfort with leading or deferring.
“He’s a guy who makes everyone’s job easier on the field,” coach Jim Curtin said. “He’s been in big in big games, played in pressure situations, has experience … As a team now, everybody just has to do their part to make Alejandro feel welcome and Alejandro just has to play.”
He’ll get his first crack at MLS opposition on Saturday at the New England Revolution. Bedoya said he’s excited to bring his family to the U.S., thrilled to play alongside old friends like Charlie Davies and Maurice Edu and optimistic about the Union’s prospects under Stewart and Curtin.
Come game time, however, he’ll have to deliver as the club’s marquee player. He first negotiated with the Union last summer, and expectations will be high now that a transfer featuring so many hurdles and moving parts has been finalized.
“They knew about my interest about coming back and they pursued that now for the past year and I'm grateful for this opportunity,” Bedoya said. “I’m really looking forward to this next challenge, because it is going to be a challenge.”