In 2006, Theo Walcott wore the label for England to much fanfare and debate.
Heading into a World Cup, it’s not uncommon for a manager to pick a player that is seemingly too green or perhaps considered by the populace just “not ready” for the occasion. Typically the player–through lack of caps alone–does not grasp the magnitude of their surrounding. It goes without saying they are not burdened with leadership responsibilities either.
That’s exactly what the manager is looking for in the cliched “x-factor” role.
Comparably, it seems as if the United States has sank or swam with young, though perhaps more experienced, players as the staple writers of its recent World Cup diaries.
2002 saw a precocious–and thick-scalped–Landon Donovan drive to the hole with aplomb, even going nutmeg, against quality defenders and teams (Portugal, Mexico, and Germany.) Landy, after getting his first senior cap only a year earlier, was one of the top global stories for soccer’s top tournament in South Korea. DaMarcus Beasley, too, acquitted himself well.
In a regrettable 2006 campaign it was Clint Dempsey, who made his impression by personally issuing an arsenal of scissor-dribbles and step-overs. Those moves and his strike against Ghana threw the international spotlight on the Texan. Dempsey might have had two full years of qualifying games under his belt, but he was still only 23 when he made the World Cup charge.
Conversely, fleet-footed striker Eddie Johnson was unable to leave his mark in Germany in 2006 and is on the bubble for this year’s squad.
New Jersey’s very own Alejandro Bedoya seems poised to be one of the chosen youngsters for Bob Bradley’s crew bound for South Africa.
To hear Bedoya tell the story, his invitation to Camp Cupcake–his direct quote–in January of this year was more of a look-see. A hi, how-are-you nod for future involvement.
Well that’s not the script that got funded.
Bedoya, after a solid showing in his first senior camp and good play against Honduras, went Hollywood with an appearance in the USMNT measurement stick friendly against Holland in March. From there, the winger has continued his assault on a World Cup roster spot with his club team Orebro, notching a goal, an assist, and has he tells it, “a whole bunch of hockey assists too.”
Media types and die-hard fans alike are all pretty confident heading into tomorrow that Bedoya will be included in the “30″ and that a few short weeks later, Bedoya’s luggage will be processed and earmarked for the baggage claim at Tambo International ….Johannesburg, South Africa.
TSG had the opportunity to chat recently with Boston College grad and quite frankly, it may have been the most fun interview we’ve done to date. Thanks and on to you, Alejandro Bedoya.
TSG: Good day Ale–actually, what time is it there?
Alejandro Bedoya: 3pm.
TSG: Did you just finish practice? How many do you have per day?
AB: Actually, day off today for us.
TSG: Alright, let’s get started. For many fans, you came out of nowhere this year. TSG saw you in January camp and was wondering why this was the first time we caught you on the field in a US practice jersey.
When did you know that Bob and US Soccer was looking at you for this cycle?
AB: Honestly, January camp was the beginning of it. First, to be called in at anytime is a rewarding honor.
But you know January, is you know, it’s called Camp Cupcake and I think they were just bringing me in to take a look. Anytime you get called in, whenever you get the chance, you just want to show them what you’ve got. You want to make an impression.
I wanted to show that I was a hard-working guy.
TSG: Okay, just your second game in the uniform…a little bit different…coming up against the likes of Robben and Sneijder and, at the time, the FIFA-ranked #3 team in Holland. What was that like? Compare that to January.
Bedoya: Well, my first game in January at HDC, it was more like just taking it in. I really noticed the fans; they were great. But at the time it was more, “Hey, I’m part of the national team. This is cool.”
That atmosphere totally changed for the Holland game. Like you said, guys like Sneijder who’s great and who I watch in Champion’s League on TV. And I was like, “Ok, this is the big time.”
I kind of took the mentality that, “Hey I’m the new guy here. What do I have to lose. I’ll just go out and play the best I can.”
TSG: Great statement, both what you just said and your play in that game.
So what results after a game like that? Do you sit down with the staff and they go over your strengths and what you need to improve on?
AB: No, for this game, there was just a team meeting. Bob reminded everyone that we are in the middle of a World Cup year and that he would be keeping track of all the players which goes without saying.
I do know what I have to work on though: I need better defensive play. I have to work on my patience going forward in the attack and improve my shot. I’ve been doing those things.
TSG: So we read that Bob Bradley came out to visit you after the Netherlands game. You didn’t know he was coming?
AB: No, I never knew he was coming. He actually attended two games. Both a home game and an away game.
TSG: I hate asking this question, but using whatever diplomatic response you want, talk World Cup. Have you done enough to be called in…or tell us something besides the proverbial “percentages.”
AB : Ha. You know I get that question a lot. How do I know what my chances are or what my percentages are?
My job is to make it the most difficult decision possible for Bob Bradley. That’s my job.
My standing will be totally based how I perform here at Orebro. I’m got a goal and assist on the season. They don’t count, you know, but I’ve got a couple of hockey assists. I’ve got a bunch of those too.
TSG: Back to working on your skills, your EA Sports FIFA ratings…well…they are just atrocious. Did you know that? You’re, like, below average in every category!
AB: You know–I’m sorry I have to curse here–I get sh*t from all my friends back home for my ratings. They all used to play Madden and now they play FIFA because I’m a player in it and the World Cup coming up and all.
They’re all like, “Man, you need to step up your game!”
You know FIFA was made kind of before I started being known a little. I play with Charlie (Charlie Davies) all the time and he’s constantly saying I’ve got to step it up.
That’s one thing, but when your friends and family are saying that, that you have to step it up, that’s tough, man.
Here’s a funny story. After the Holland game, one of the guys from EA Facebook messaged me asking me what I thought about the game and what position I play and my ratings. He said they didn’t know much about me.
TSG: You know your header rating is a “34″ I think. That’s only better than Tim Howard on the whole US team.
AB: I know right! And the funny thing is if you ask people here at Orebro, they’ll tell you that’s one of my strengths–that when the ball goes up in the box, I go and get it.
TSG: Alright, we’ll give you a break from the FIFA stuff and talk World Cup. Do you have any fond memories of the USMNT growing up? Anybody you wanted to emulate?
AB: The quarterfinals in 2002 when we lost out to Germany, that was exciting. It was Germany, right. Up until that handball, it was a great moment for US soccer.
As for players, has to be Claudio Reyna. Everything he could do with the ball. Makes the passes. Maintain possession. He sort of set the bar.
TSG: And your club team is Barca, correct?
AB: Absolutely, I’ve loved Barca ever since growing up. My dad used to always watch the games so I guess that’s what got me into them. I just watched them all the time with my dad.
They’ve always had great players. Frank Rijkaard was a great coach and with him they were a fun team to watch….the epitome of exactly how football should be played.
TSG: You know, this is one of the most engaging interviews we’ve had.
AB: Thanks, I appreciate it. I guess I have to give a shout out to my education at Boston College.
TSG: We’ll make sure they find a copy of this interview up there. So you’re in Sweden now, moving on is there a league that you feel best suits your style?
AB: Well first, I love playing in Sweden and really enjoying playing for Orebro. I’m learning a lot here and I’m very happy. Sure in the future I’d think about moving. I would have to say a next step might be Holland or France or something.
But right now, I’m very happy at Orebro.
TSG: Okay, we’ll finish up here with some tap-ins. You’ve got the Holden brothers, the Kljestan brothers and now the Bedoya brothers–you’re brother recently got a trial up in Sweden, correct–as the up-and-comers from the States. You’re playing a little bit of two-man scrimmage with two tennis balls as the goals in a tournament against those guys. Who wins?
AB: Well, first my brother will actually be here this summer. But, oh wow. Oh wow. That’s a really tough question.
Well I’d guess I’d have to say I’m a competitor, l love to compete. I’m first, my brother and I are first for sure.
TSG: Who’s second?
AB: That’s a tough one too. I’ll just say they’re going to battle it out for who’s next. I’m not going to pick either.
TSG: Alright, fair enough. A common thing interviewers do–which is extremely lame, but still effective–is to put you on the spot and ask some quick word associations. We’ve got just a few for you. Just the first thing that comes to mind.
TSG: Oguchi Onyewu
TSG: Charlie Davies
TSG: Stu Holden.
AB: Oh wow…”Pretty boy?”
TSG: Sacha Kljestan.
Bedoya: Mustache…that’s what I call him.
TSG: Jozy Altidore
TSG: Don’t say headbutt.
Bedoya: You know, that was the first thing that came to my mind, but no, Jozy’s great. Fellow Florida boy.
TSG: Alright. Alejandro, really appreciate your time today. Any questions we’ve missed that you want to answer? Anything that you want to let the fans know?
Hmm. Well everyone thinks I’m from Florida. I from–I was born in New Jersey, then moved to Florida.
And well, I’m on the come-up. Look out for me.
We will be Alejandro, in just about a month’s time.