Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – If things would have gone as planned, Alejandro Bedoya would still be playing in Sweden with Orebro SK.
Things did not go as planned, however.
With Benny Feilhaber suffering an ankle injury prior to the Gold Cup, Bedoya was summoned by U.S. men's national team head coach Bob Bradley to fill the void. Bedoya has done more than that, providing a big spark off the bench in the U.S. team's two most recent games.
"Both games, (he and Sacha Kljestan) came on the field at times when we needed some energy and an ability to make smart plays and both have helped in those situations," Bradley said.
Kljestan has also made an impact off the bench so far in the tournament, but not to the lengths Bedoya has. In the games against Panama and Guadeloupe, Bedoya was involved in several goal-scoring opportunities.
"My role coming on as a sub is to provide some energy to the team," said Bedoya, who now has 10 caps with the U.S. team. "My mindset is just to come in there and provide a spark, get our team up again, start attacking and provide something offensively."
A standout starter with Orebro, Bedoya has embraced his role as a back-up with the national team. He understands that he won't be unseating Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey anytime soon, and he is just trying to gain experience and knowledge from the top two American players.
Bedoya must be learning quickly, because against Panama the 24-year-old brought some life into an attack that sorely needed ideas. He nearly drew a penalty kick but was controversially given a yellow card for what was deemed to be a dive.
Against Guadeloupe on Tuesday night in front of a sold out crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park, Bedoya was even better, creating several chances and almost coming away with his first goal at the international level during his 26-minute stint.
"He comes in with a lot of energy. He's got a good, young fighting spirit," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "He wants to prove himself, he's hungry and you like that. Hopefully he gets a goal or something to boost his confidence and push him onto that next level."
Bedoya's near goal came shortly after he entered the field, as a cross fell to him after Clint Dempsey failed to head it. Bedoya took a touch and then shot the ball, but it was saved by Guadeloupe goalkeeper Franck Grendel.
"Offensively I'm able to get into those spots well," Bedoya said.
If Grendel denied Bedoya of a goal that would've put the U.S. team up 2-0, Bedoya was robbed of his first assist by his own teammate in the 76th minute. After luring Grendel off his line, Bedoya played a ball across the penalty area to a wide open Dempsey, who stood in front of an empty net from six yards out. Dempsey failed to capitalize on the opportunity, taking an unnecessary touch that allowed Guadeloupe defender Julien Ictoi to clear the ball.
"I think Dempsey owes me one now," Bedoya said with a smile. "I would've got my assist, my first point with the national team. But it's all right, things like that happen. On to the next game."
The Americans next game is against Jamaica in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup, and there is a chance Bedoya could start if Bradley opts to push Dempsey up top. Whether he starts or net, Bedoya seems like the first option off the bench due to his knack for creating chances for teammates or himself.
"He's right there, he keeps knocking on the door and he battles everytime he comes in," said Bocanegra. "It's a great lift for us."
Bedoya's impact as a bench isn't only helping the team. It's benefitting him, too. Bedoya admits that his integration to the team is still a work in progress, and that every positive performance is helping him.
"I keep growing in confidence," he said. "I think Bob is doing a good job of integrating (the younger players) into the team. I'm competing with some of the better midfielders. It's not easy, but I know what my role is."