Commentary

Bedoya is breakout player of Gold Cup

Updated: June 25, 2011, 12:56 PM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- American winger Alejandro Bedoya got quite the surprise a few weeks ago. In spite of regular call-ups to the national team, in which he showed very brief flashes of promise, he'd been left off the Gold Cup roster. Even Freddy Adu, whose career was still hurtling into the abyss, was included on the roster for the tournament.

So Bedoya, the 24-year-old New Jersey native who bolted for Orebro in Sweden rather than enter the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, did the next best thing. He booked a holiday to Barcelona with his girlfriend.

But on the eve of the United States' jam-packed June, in which it had scheduled a friendly against Spain and faced up to six Gold Cup games, U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber injured his right ankle in a game for his New England Revolution. Bedoya was called to report to the national team. Holiday cancelled.

But since the second game of the group stage, Bedoya started getting significant playing time and making fruitful substitutions. In the quarterfinals against Jamaica, he became a starter after Landon Donovan returned from a wedding the morning before the game. Bedoya performed so well that Donovan -- the team's superstar and best-ever player -- was kept out of the starting lineup for the semifinals. Now, for Saturday's final, there's every chance that Bedoya will retain Donovan's old slot on the right wing, forcing coach Bob Bradley to find somewhere else to deploy Donovan.

A talented but ineffective player for the national team until now, Bedoya has been a real spark plug. He's also the only American winger with a tendency to stay wide. In so doing, he's created room in the center for the likes of Clint Dempsey and Sacha Kljestan. Pairing well with veteran right back Steve Cherundolo by tracking back and devoting a lot of energy to closing down his turf, Bedoya has also helped made the right flank an unpopular route for opponents.

And for that, his teammates love him.

"He's been great," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "We love his energy, his commitment; he gets up and down. He's kind of wiry and a bit awkward in a way. He wins a lot of headers, but is not the biggest guy. He wriggles past people, he's crafty, he's diligent on the defensive end, he pushes forward. He's been a boost for us."

"He's been a good addition," said Bradley. "His energy, his movement -- I think he's been sharp with the ball."

Assessing his own contribution, Bedoya thinks his energy has been the key to his game -- and the impetus for helping the U.S. turn the corner after a bumbling start to the tournament. "I think what we were missing the first couple of games in the group stage was to start the game off on the right note -- with the intensity and everything," he said. "I think I'm able to do that and I think it helps us get a better game overall, that we start with the fast pace and impose our game on the opponents."

But he, too, has been taken aback by the net contribution he has made.

"I was quite surprised," said Bedoya. "If I'm going to be quite honest, of course I was surprised. I didn't see it coming. I obviously wasn't included in the original roster, and to come in here and to do this? I definitely wasn't expecting that.

"It's kind of been ... I dunno, whatever you want to call it, a coming-out party I guess?" added Bedoya.

But the rest of the national team saw it coming.

"We've known about him for a while," said Cherundolo. "He's nothing new to me, I see him in practice every day."

"I think he's maybe not the surprise, but the breakout-player of the tournament," said captain Carlos Bocanegra. "Every time he's come into this camp he works hard, he's pushing it, always fighting for a starting position. He was always right there."

With Bedoya finally winning a starting position and making a real impact for the national team, there's really only been one victim: Bedoya's girlfriend, who missed out on her vacation.

"She's very understanding," Bedoya said with a smile. "From the moment we started dating she knew what my career was going to be like and that these things can happen. She's been a great sport."

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LeanderESPN.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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