U.S. Soccer
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US Soccer

REMATCH: NC Courage vs. Portland Thorns in 2018 NWSL Championship | TODAY | 4:30 p.m. ET | LIFETIME

Despite impressive efforts from both the Seattle Reign and Chicago Red Stars in the 2018 NWSL semifinals, the final two teams standing during this 2018 NWSL season that will meet in the Championship are the same two that played in the 2017 final – the 2018 NWSL Shield Winners North Carolina Courage and the reigning NWSL Champions Portland Thorns.

This year, Portland will have a distinct advantage, as the Championship Game venue that was selected months ago will be Providence Park, home stadium of the Thorns, and home to some of the best fans in all of women’s soccer. The atmosphere is sure to create a historic night in the history of the women’s pro game in the USA.

U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis named her 20-player roster for the 2018Concacaf Women’s Championship on September 19, and six of those players will be on the field for the NWSL title game: Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn and Samantha Mewisfor North Carolina; and Tobin Heath, newly crowned NWSL MVP Lindsey Horan, and Emily Sonnett for the Thorns. Additionally, Adrianna Franch (Portland) and Merritt Mathias (NC) will also join the WNT for training to help the USA prepare for World Cup qualifying.

With almost a third of the U.S. WNT qualifying roster vying for the league crown on Saturday, here are a few things to keep in mind when you tune into the match:

HOW TO WATCH

The 2018 NWSL Championship will air live starting at 4:30 p.m. ET on Lifetime in the U.S. For international viewers, the game will be available on nwslsoccer.com and the NWSL app. For complete social coverage check out twitter @NWSL.

HOW THEY GOT HERE
Due to Hurricane Florence, the North Carolina vs. Chicago Red Stars semifinal had to be moved from Cary, N.C. and was relocated to Providence Park, where the courage won 2-0 to advance to the Final. North Carolina was far and away the top team in the league for the entire year. With 17 wins in a 24-game regular season, the team finished with a record-breaking 57 points – a whopping 15 points ahead of second-place Portland – and easily won the NWSL Shield for the second year in a row.However, North Carolina will be playing in front of an extremely partisan and sold out crowd at Providence Park as the Courage attempt to avenge last year’s loss. Through the first five years of the league, no NWSL Shield winner has ever won the NWSL Championship.

Portland had a rollicking but interesting year. Plagued by injuries early on, the Thorns rallied to finish strong, beating Seattle in their regular season finale to jump over the Reign and into second place in the final standings, earning the right to host the semifinal. Against their Pacific Northwest rival in the semifinal, the Thorns came from a goal down with scores from Horan and Heath to take the match 2-1 and give themselves a chance to match FC Kansas City and become the second team in NWSL history to win back-to-back NWSL titles.

2017 REWIND
The 2018 game will be a rematch of the 2017 final, which saw the Portland Thorns earn their second title in franchise history with a 1-0 win vs. the North Carolina Courage at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Lindsey Horan scored the lone goal of the match in the 50th minute and was named NWSL Championship MVP.

U.S. WNT IN ACTION
Portland: The 2018 season was a comeback season of sorts for WNT forward Tobin Heath. After missing almost all of 2017 and some early parts of 2018 due to injuries, Heath came back into action midway through the year and has slowly regained her form to once again become one of the most lethal players on the pitch. In the regular season, Heath finished with seven goals and seven assists – second most on the league – in just 17 appearances, and was named to the NWSL Best XI. WNT defender Emily Sonnett built on her successful 2017 with another strong season in the 2018. Also named also to the NWSL Best XI, Sonnett started all 21 games she appeared in, subbing off only twice. Perhaps nobody had a better year than 24-year-old WNT midfielder Lindsey Horan. Horan’s 2017 – for both club and country –showed promise, but in 2018 she really excelled on the field. The 2018 NWSL MVP was a key player for the Thorns all year, playing every minute in 22 regular season games she appeared in and scoring 13 goals, third-best on the league, with six of them coming on headers. Named to the NWSL Best XI, Horan led the league in total touches (1,852) and duels won (297), including aerial duels (141) and is the first MVP to not win the Golden Boot on the same season (that honor went to Australian international and Red Stars forward Sam Kerr who tallied 16 goals).

North Carolina: After recovering from an injury suffered at the end of 2017, WNT midfielder Samantha Mewis returned to the field midway through the season and slowly began to regain her form. Mewis finished the regular season playing in 18 games with 12 starts, and scored three goals. If there was any doubt of whether Mewis was feeling 100 percent, she proved that she was back to the form which saw her start every WNT game last year when she struck a world-class goal from distance against Chicago in the semifinal that clinched the game and earned her a mention on SportsCenter’s Top-10 plays.

For WNT defenders Crystal Dunn and Abby Dahlkepmer, both named to this year’s NWSL Best XI, 2018 was another excellent year. Traded to North Carolina right at the start of the season, Dunn quickly meshed well with her new team, playing in 23 games and scoring six goals with seven assists. Dahlkemper played every minute of every game she appeared in and marshalled the best defense in the league, which allowed only 17 goals – least in the league – and maintained a perfect record at home.

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WNT Sep 22, 2018
US Soccer

Open Cup Rewind: When Philly’s Ukes Ran the Game

They close their eyes to remember those old days better. To bring back images of Edison Field, near the corner of 29th and Clearfield, south of Allegheny Avenue. These old men wait for those pictures, from over a half-century ago, to sharpen in their memory like ships on a foggy horizon. There’s the old clubhouse on North Broad Street. There’s game day too, when men in suits, hats and raincoats took their wives out to cheer on their favorite Philadelphia sports team. It wasn’t the Phillies or the Eagles or the 76ers. No, sir. It was Tryzub they went to see, the Ukrainian Nationals, Philadelphia Ukrainians or simply the Ukes [yoo-kees] – America’s best soccer team during the 1960s.

“We beat everybody back then,” snapped Alexandre Alex Ely, his eyes still mischievous at 80 years old. He speaks in a gravelly voice and wears the fleece jacket he was given upon his induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1997.  “I’ve lost track of how many trophies we won in those years. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but we had the best soccer team in the country for a good few years.”


(The Dewar Cup - the original U.S. Open Cup - on one of its four trips to Edison Field in Philly)

Ely was born on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the son of a German father who emigrated after nearly dying in the poison trenches of World War I. Young Alex learned the game of soccer, futebol, playing barefoot in the crowded street games around Mogi das Cruzes. He learned to fight in those games too. He was 12 years old the first time he wore a pair of proper soccer cleats, and the lessons he learned early were a mish-mash of the fabled jogo bonito of Brazilian lore and the blood-and-thunder of its reality. Those lessons served him well after his arrival in the U.S., on his own and still a teenager, in 1959.

Rough Stuff in the Old ASL
“There’s nothing romantic about playing soccer, especially in those days,” said Ely with a rough laugh, remembering the broken collarbones and shattered ankles that kept him out of the Ukrainian Nationals starting XI (those were the only things that kept him out). “It was very dangerous playing in those days because the referees weren’t always the best and a lot of bad things happened if you didn’t watch out for yourself. Guys would go after you hard. But there was something inside me that never let me give up and we always seemed to win.” Ivan John Barodiak, who came to the club from Argentina’s San Lorenzo, remembers it the same way: “The game was really rough back then and it was a lot more difficult to show your finesse because there was always someone looking to kick you. It was hard to play soccer the right way, but we did.”


(The Ukrainians rest before a training session in 1966)

Winning became a habit in those old Ukrainian Nationals teams of the 1960s. They won four Open Cups, six American Soccer League (ASL) titles and two Lewis Cups (The ASL’s league Cup). When they first won the U.S. Open Cup – then known as the National Challenge Cup or simply the National Championship – Argentinian striker Mike Noha scored five goals in a single game against the Los Angeles Kickers in Philly. The men from California were loaded with talent and boasted the renowned Al Zerhusen, U.S. National Team midfielder and Olympian. The Final, played in front of nearly 6,000 fans, finished 3-3 in regular time and 5-3 after extra-time. “Noha was pretty good,” begrudged his old teammate Ely. “A fantastic finisher really, and I remember I set up one of his goals that day in the final against the Kickers. I was always setting up goals for him.”

What Ely remembers best is the way the Ukrainians played the game. “I was kind of a tough nut in middle-field, but I liked to be the playmaker, to deliver the goals to my teammates,” said the man who went on to star for the U.S. National Team before returning to Brazil in 1965 to play for Santos, where he lined up beside Pele on a few occasions. “We liked to keep the ball and move it around the field, which was crazy then. The game just wasn’t played that way here. Most teams had the ball up in the air all the time.” 

Borodiak, now 78, was a cultured fullback and another club legend who played from 1963 to 1966. He remembers the Ukes’ approach the same way. “The idea was to be a group that connected to each other really well,” said the defender, who later went on to play in the early days of the old North American Soccer League (NASL) with the Baltimore Bays and Cleveland Stokers before going into business making porcelain bridges for the dental industry. “No one was supposed to be involved with the ball too long. That’s what made the big difference for us as a team. In this country, we were able to stand above our opponents by keeping and moving the ball around the field.”


(The Ukes v. Pompei of Baltimore at Edison Field)

That possession game also helped the Ukes when big-name teams from abroad came over for friendlies, which they often did. Manchester United, Wolves, Eintracht Frankfurt, VFB Stuttgart, Austria Vienna, Man City and Dundee were just a few of the foreign teams to take on the Ukrainian Nationals through those glory years. Silken banners still hang in the barroom of the club headquarters – now a 45-minute drive north of the city in Horsham, Pa. where once there were only cornfields as far as the eye could see. The banners blush in the shadows with the tarnished trophies, perched up in the rafters over the bar taps.

“We used to get two, three thousand people to just regular league games,” said Bogdan Siryj, the former club president. He was only a young boy back in the 60s and he watched his favorite players, like Ely, Borodiak and Noha, up close at Edison Field. “The enthusiasm was just incredible and these guys were my heroes. We used to carry [Mike] Noha around the field on our shoulders.”

It’s hard for Siryj – hard for all of the old Ukrainians – not to get choked up when they recall the old days. He remembers the Open Cup Final in 1964 that required 90 minutes of extra-time after 90 minutes of regular time. “I think it was one of the longest games ever played,” recalled Ely with a shake of his head. There was the ‘Noha’ Final in 1960 and the ‘double’ years of 1961 and 1963 – in all there were four Open Cup titles won in the space of six years (1960-1966). The Ukes became the first soccer team in American history to have their home games televised. And the players, Siryj can rattle their names off like an auctioneer – “Ely, Noha, the Lunas and Oscar Mendez. And there was Ismaiel Fereyra, Walter Tarnawsy and Walt Chyzowych.”


(Members of the team board a plane for El Salvador and the 1967 CONCACAF Champions Cup)

“So many people used to talk about our games and the players,” remembered George Litynsky, a goalkeeper who was scouted in his native Argentina by Noha, who made regular trips back home after each season in search of talent for the club. “There was a bar and people used to show up there and hang around and talk about us. There was so much excitement around the club. And for me, when I came, I had almost no English, but these people around me were like a family. It was special.”

Litynsky came late in the wave of Ukes’ dominance, but he remembers the 1966 Open Cup Final. He was back-up that day to Tarnawsky, born in the former USSR and once an Argentinian international and pro with Newell’s Old Boys. “It was an exciting day and we had close to 4,000 fans here,” said Litynsky who went on to have a career in architecture. “We had beaten them [Orange County FC] 1-0 in California and then we beat them 3-0 in Philly in the return leg, and I can still remember how much enthusiasm there was at the field and how the fans ran on the pitch after the final whistle.”

Work and Play – a Tough Balance
It wasn’t always easy. In those days, the best soccer team in America was still semipro at best. “The money wasn’t good,” Litynsky laughed. “I was getting 40 dollars a game, Some of the superstars like Tarnawksy and Borodiak, maybe they got 60 dollars a game. But it wasn’t like it is today with contracts for millions of dollars. We all used to play and we all used to work.” Ely, who went to night school and became a coach and teacher after his return from Brazil, recalls the hardships too: “The money we got was mostly for expenses and you had to work. It wasn’t like in Brazil where if you were a big star in a big team, you’d have it made.”   


(The Ukrainian Nationals - Ely is third from left in the top row and Borodiak - same row - is third from right)

What the old Ukes remember best are the moments, still sharp in the mind’s eye, of winning. Of celebrating. Of being the best, of being young and surrounded by possibility. “It was something; the way people would come from far away, from Delaware and farther than that, to watch us play,” said Ely, fidgeting in his chair. Borodiak remembers those smiles after the final whistle, before the trophy came, when they’d done enough to win. “It’s most memorable when you become a champion,” he said in his halting accented English. “The leagues and the cups, when you look back, you remember those moments like they were yesterday.” For Litynsky, it’s simpler than that: “It felt like home.”

It was a long day for the old timers – these legends who dressed for the occasion in blue blazers, pressed shirts and hard shoes. They return to their wives and grown children who wait patiently, sipping drinks below the flock of trophies, like birds, in the rafters. They say their so-longs in the barroom where pictures of their younger selves, black-and-white and ropy with muscle, hang on the walls around them. When they head outside into a foggy summer night, they watch for a minute as the kids – in the same Ukrainian Nationals’ red and black they used to wear – play under the glow of floodlights.

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U.S. Open Cup Sep 22, 2018
US Soccer

There Can Only Be One: #USOC2018 Final Preview

The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has reached its culminating moment. The trophy is polished and resting, the stage is set at BBVA Compass Stadium in South Texas, and one of the two Finalists on Sept. 26th will be crowned champions for the first time. Philadelphia Union were twice-beaten runners-up in 2014 and 2015, while Houston Dynamo, two-time MLS champions, are playing in the big game for the first time in their history. Join ussoccer.com for a look back at how they got here and what to expect on Wednesday when the curtain raises at 7 p.m. CT (ESPN2, UDN).

Both sides opened their Open Cup account with lopsided 5-0 victories at home in the Fourth Round; the Union beat second division pro side Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League (USL), while Houston scored all of their goals in the second half against impressive amateurs and Open Cup regulars NTX Rayados out of North Texas. From there on, both teams played all of their games at home, showing for good and all just how important the hosting coin-flip can be to a successful Cup run. The Dynamo slipped past Minnesota United (MLS) in the Round of 16 by a slim 1-0 scoreline before knocking out the defending champ Sporting Kansas City (MLS) 4-2 in the Quarterfinals. Their Semifinal against tournament debutants LAFC (MLS) ended 3-3 a.e.t. and needed a penalty shootout to put the Dynamo into their debut Open Cup Final.


(Young - Mauro Manotas - and old - Philippe Senderos - have been making an impact for the Dynamo)

The Union followed up their opening-day rout of the 1995 Open Cup champion Kickers with a pair of one-goal results against New York Red Bulls (MLS), 2-1, in the Round of 16 and Orlando City (MLS), 1-0, in the Quarterfinals. The Semifinal, the fourth straight game at their Talen Energy Stadium on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester, Pa., was their best performance of the competition so far. They scored all three goals of the 3-0 win vs. the Chicago Fire (MLS) in the second half of a game that not only sent them to the Final of the Open Cup for a third time in five years, but changed their momentum in the league. They are now right on the cusp of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Offense vs. Defense
The numbers don’t lie. Houston have reached the Final, in large part, because of their dynamic offensive play. Alberth Ellis, Romell Quioto and, perhaps most importantly, Mauro Manotas form a three-pronged counter-attacking machine that saw the Dynamo score no fewer than 13 times in the space of just four games. Colombian striker Manotas, still 22, is in line to become top scorer of this edition of the tournament with a goal in the Final – and a brace would likely see him win the top-gun prize outright, outpacing LAFC’s Diego Rossi and David Ochoa of Miami United FC on four goals each. In case that were not enough in the achievement department for the lean, leggy Dynamo No. 9, he broke Houston’s all-time single-season scoring record across all competitions this year and holds the enviable record of being the Dynamo’s top all-time scorer in Open Cup play. “I allow myself to dream about lifting the Cup this year,” Manotas, who only broke into the Starting XI at the start of this season, told ussoccer.com. “In this life you have to dream in order to win, and you have to keep working too.”

While Houston rocketed to the Final by virtue of their impressive attacking array, Philly arrived at this stage by being stingy. While they scored 11 goals, they conceded just one over the course of the campaign. It’s a fact not lost on head coach Jim Curtin, a former defender who won the tournament twice as a player with Chicago Fire. “Our defense starts with Andre Blake [the Union’s Jamaican international goalkeeper who’s had an outstanding competition]. The way he’s been playing allows our defenders to be aggressive and to take chances,” said Curtin, who was in charge in the two consecutive Final losses in 2014 and 2015. “That’s a powerful feeling for a defender to have and it filters through the team. That said, we still conceded one goal so we could have defended better.”


(Union captain Alejandro Bedoya - center - has experience overseas and at the 2014 World Cup)

While Curtin sets an impossibly high standard for his backline, he knows full well the threats posed by a high-flying Houston Dynamo in the attacking third. “It’s a Final, and we know they’ll be up for it. We’re going to get their best punch in their building,” he said. “The key to the game will be who controls the tempo. If it turns into an end-to-end, wide-open game, we have no chance. We have to take that part of the game away from them.”

On the other side of the technical area, Wilmer Cabrera, a 50-times capped Colombian international who knows all about the big day, is hoping home field counts for something in this, the Dynamo’s fifth consecutive 2018 Open Cup contest at BBVA Compass Stadium. “It’s wonderful for us. It’s another home game for us. But you still have to win at home. You don’t get anything just because you play at home. It’s great to have the draws go your way, but you also have to put it in on the field. We’ve done that so far and hopefully we’ve got one more in us.”

Both teams have been through the fires and are now one win away from lifting a trophy. There will be nerves on the day and it will be down to the respective team leaders to calm the troops with everything on the line. “It’s OK for guys to be a little nervous. That’s natural,” said Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “But you just need to go through your routines – take your walks and your naps and get ready like you do. In the end, there’s a trophy on the line and that’s all the motivation you need.”

Dynamo’s Old-Timers
While Bedoya leads a team that has relied on youth and Homegrown talent out of PA, The Dynamo has a raft of old campaigners in the locker room, wise old veterans like DaMarcus Beasley (36), Philippe Senderos (33), a former FA Cup winner with Arsenal in 2004-05, and Honduran international Oscar Boniek Garcia (34). “You need guys like this,” said Boniek on the eve of his first championship game since losing an MLS Cup Final in 2012. “These are the kind of guys who’d played in big games and won trophies and they can show the way for the younger guys.”


(Whoever wins it will be making history for their club - a first Open Cup title)

In the end, the winner will make history. The winning team’s picture will hang on the wall in either BBVA Compass Stadium or Talen Energy Stadium for as long as the clubs shall live. Houston are alive with the possibilities in their first Open Cup Final and Philly Union are looking to banish the ghosts of Finals past. “We’ve still got guys in the team like Ray Gaddis, CJ Sapong, Andre Blake and Fabino who were here for those losses and it would be extra special for them to win it this year,” said Union boss Curtin. “Being in a Final is big for any player and I want my guys to know that feeling of winning a trophy.”

Cabrera is aware of the same stakes. At home, there might even be a little more pressure on his men in orange. “This is the most important thing. It’s hard to put into words what it would mean for the club, the city, the fans and the players. You don’t win trophies every day. And the fact that we haven’t won one in a while [their two MLS titles came in 2006 and 2007] is proof that things have changed and become more difficult. But now we have the opportunity. Hopefully we can continue performing well. We are waiting and preparing now and our goal is to get the Cup.”

Whoever wins will be doing it for a first time, and they will join a list of winners going back to 1914 to where the oldest soccer crown in American history. All will be known on Sept 26th in South Texas.

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U.S. Open Cup Sep 20, 2018
US Soccer

More than 20,000 tickets sold for USA-Colombia on Oct. 11 in Tampa

CHICAGO (Sept. 20, 2018) – More than 20,000 tickets have been sold for the next stop of the U.S. MNT’s Kickoff Series when the United States will host 14th-ranked Colombia at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. FS1, UniMas and UDN will broadcast the match beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. [KICKOFF SERIES TICKETS]

The match could set an attendance record for a MNT visit to Tampa. A crowd of 31,547 witnessed a Landon Donovan hat trick in a 3-0 win against Ecuador on March 25, 2007 in the same venue. The U.S. is coming off a 1-0 win against archrival Mexico on Sept. 11 in Nashville, with 19-year-old Tyler Adams scoring his first international goal in the shutout victory.

The match falls on an international fixture date, which makes all players available for selection.

Tickets are on sale through ussoccer.com and by phone at 1-800-745-3000. [Note: Tickets are not sold at Raymond James Stadium except on the day of the event.] Groups of 20 or more can order directly at ussoccer.com. Ultimate Fan Tickets (special VIP packages that include a premium ticket, a custom-made official U.S. National Team jersey with name and number, VIP access to the field before the game, and other unique benefits) are also available exclusively through ussoccer.com.

Coaches Circle and Presidents Circle members supporting the U.S. Soccer Development Fund can receive individual customer support and concierge services for their ticketing needs. Click here or contact circles@ussoccer.org for more information.

Colombia is one of six teams in the Top 25 of the FIFA World Rankings facing the MNT in the Kickoff Series, joining Brazil (3), England (6), Italy (20), Mexico (15) and Peru (21). The six-match set will provide the aspiring young U.S. side with top-level competition at the start of their four-year journey toward the 2022 World Cup.

U.S. MNT 2018 KICKOFF SERIES SCHEDULE

Date

Game

Venue, Location

Time(ET)/Result

TV

Sept. 7

USA vs. Brazil,
presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance

MetLife Stadium;

East Rutherford, N.J.

0-2 L

FS1, Univision, UDN

Sept. 11

USA vs. Mexico, presented by AT&T

Nissan Stadium;

Nashville, Tenn.

1-0 W

ESPN, Univision

Oct. 11

USA vs. Colombia

Raymond James Stadium; Tampa

7:30 p.m.

FS1, UniMas, UDN

Oct. 16

USA vs. Peru

Rentschler Field; East Hartford, Conn.

7:30 p.m.

ESPN2, UniMas, UDN

Nov. 15

England vs. USA

Wembley Stadium;
London, England

3 p.m.

ESPN2, UniMas, UDN

Nov. 20

Italy vs. USA

TBD

3 p.m.

FS1, UniMas, UDN


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MNT Sep 20, 2018
US Soccer

Bedoya: Philly Union’s Missing Link?

Alejandro Bedoya is the link-up man for the Philadelphia Union. He’s the No. 8. The hidden playmaker. He’s the club’s captain, leader and chief schemer. He’s a conduit on the field from back to attack, doing “what I do best: moving the ball from the defense to the front.” He’s a link between personalities and teammates in the locker room, “managing egos and pridefulness.” And he’s a link to a bigger world – one he met head-on, with no promises of success, when he set off for Europe at the tender age of 20.

“I was just out of college where I had a kind of free role, and at that level what matters is if you’re better than the guys around you. You don’t learn much about tactics in the college game,” said Bedoya who, after visiting his friend and Boston College teammate (future U.S. National Team and Union teammate too) Charlie Davies in Sweden during his senior year, knew what his next step would be. “Pretty quickly, I realized there was a lot more to the game than getting into a good spot and demanding the ball. Over there [in Europe] we’d watch game film for hours after training and before games. I learned about how to move in certain formations, how to move when you have the ball, when you don’t. When to step up. I got an overall education in tactics there.


(Bedoya during his years with Nantes in France's top flight) 

Soccer Education in Europe, Not College
Bedoya’s not the best player in Major League Soccer. He’s not the fastest. He’s not a genius born to make art with his feet. What he has, and what he is, came with measured decisions, considered outcomes and chances taken. He’s not boastful when he sizes himself up; he’s confident. “I consider myself, tactically, one of the most intelligent players in the league [MLS] and all of that came from my time in Europe.”

There were many decisions to make before his debut in a Svenska Cup game with Orebro in Sweden. There were many questions to ask: Will I be homesick? Will I miss my family too much? Why not take one of the other roads open as a top collegiate prospect? “I always dreamed of playing over in Europe, even from when I was a little kid. When you play FIFA you never pick your local team, you always pick a team from over there,” said Bedoya with a laugh.

He went from strength to strength in his seven years across the Atlantic. He acclimated quickly in Sweden’s top flight, moved on to Rangers in Glasgow to taste the roar and howl of Ibrox and the blood and thunder of Old Firm derbies against Celtic. In France, with Nantes, he played in one of the top five leagues in the world. Each step was a part of a school of soccer where he took extensive mental notes and rarely got caught daydreaming. Along the way, Bedoya broke into the U.S. National Team and fulfilled another lifelong dream: playing in the World Cup – all four of the USA’s games in Brazil in 2014. “I’ve always been an ambitious person. And I guess I took the road less traveled, but I hope it becomes the path more American players take in the future because there’s a lot of great play over there. It was a big learning curve but it helped me tremendously.” 


(The Union captain struck early in the 2018 Open Cup Quarterfinal against Orlando City) 

Bedoya grew up in the game. First in New Jersey, then in the western part of Florida. His father, born in Colombia and a former professional with Millionarios, made his family in America. And while Alejandro remembers supporting Colombia and “wearing my Carlos Valderrama wig” while a seven-year-old during the 1994 World Cup, something tugged him back to the States after seven years abroad. He’d passed on a chance to start his career in Major League Soccer, but in 2016, with a second child on the way, he felt the pull of home. Again, he measured the pros and cons. He had a list of reasons and many things to consider.

Philly the Right Fit for Homecoming
“I met Jim [Curtin – Philadelphia Union head coach] while I was still in France when he was over scouting a teammate of mine at Nantes,” said Bedoya about his decision to join the Union and return to MLS as a Designated Player, a title he puts in air quotes in the Union locker room in Chester, Pa. a few weeks before the 2018 U.S. Open Cup Final against Houston Dynamo (7 p.m. CT on Sept. 26; ESPN2, UDN). “I liked the things he was saying. I liked the plan they had here, their youth academy and the fact that they wanted me to play as a No. 8, a defined role. And it all just kind of fit. I love living on the East Coast. Philly is close to New York and New Jersey, where I have a lot of family. And people say I’ve got the right attitude for Philly!”

It wasn’t an immediate marriage made in heaven, but the Bedoya-led Union is clicking now in 2018 after the club failed to reach the league playoffs last year and went out early in 2016. They’re on the cusp of reaching the MLS post-season and they’re back in the Open Cup Final again. “I reached a Cup semifinal in France, but we lost so I never played in a Cup Final,” said Bedoya, who came to the Union just after the club’s heartache of a pair of Open Cup Final losses on home soil in consecutive years in 2014 and 2015. It was a chance for the Union, founded in 2010, to win its first trophy. “I’m sure those losses hurt for the guys who were here, but there’s no looking back really, and it’s about what’s in front of us. We have a great opportunity to lift a trophy now.”


(Bedoya played in all four of the U.S. National Team's games at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil)

Bedoya, 31 and closer to the end of his career than its start, is an old campaigner in a Union side that relies on youth and Homegrown talent. He’s a steadying influence on those younger players and they look to him to lead the way. He scored an early lone goal in the Open Cup Quarterfinal against Orlando City – one of those sloppy games you just need to grind out if you want to get to the Final. But in the Semifinal, against Chicago Fire, there was no hanging on for a result. It was a performance in which the Union were as good as they could be. “In games like that you need your best players to be your best players and Alejandro [Bedoya] just took the game over,” remembered coach Curtin about the 3-0 win at home that put Philadelphia into the Final, and gave the club another chance to lift a trophy for the first time in its history.

The opening goal didn’t come until ten minutes into the second half, but it was snapshot of what Bedoya does best. Receiving a return ball from Borek Dockal at the edge of the penalty area, he was faced with a wall of red defenders. There wasn’t an obvious way through or around. So it had to be over the top. Bedoya’s delicate chip cleared the wall but dropped too far from Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez for him to claim it. Union forward Cory Burke collected the pass and fired home. It set the stage for a comprehensive 3-0 win. “We dominated them and we should have scored more,” said Bedoya, the orchestrator and split-second decision maker. “The pressure was on and we came through.”

Cup Momentum Leaks into League
It wasn’t just a convincing win that put the Union into a Final. It was a turning point in the league too. It turned the year around and changed the atmosphere in the locker room. They didn’t drop a result in the entire month of August. Burke got on a roll in attack, the confidence of CJ Sapong, veteran of the 2015 Cup Final loss, returned with his goal. Everything clicked, and all of it, in no small way, came from the link-up play of the team’s quiet captain. “When things like that happen, the spirit in the locker room just picks up,” said Bedoya about the upturn in good vibes that can come with a deep Cup run. And while things haven’t all gone their way in September, the Union will arrive in Houston for the Final on Sept. 26th with justifiable confidence. “Everybody’s happy and the banter is flying left and right. The guys are talking more and joking. You can just feel it.”


(Bedoya, who's been with the Union since 2016, can be the club's first captain to win a trophy)

When asked what his last minutes before kick-off in the away locker room at Houston’s BBVA Stadium will be like, Bedoya doesn’t describe pep talks and rallying cries. “It’s a trophy we’re playing for. And that’s all the motivation you need,” said the skipper, the man brought to Philadelphia to link the young and youthful Union with silverware. “This club has only been around since 2010 but we have no trophies, and we want them. That’s a big reason I came here. We’re playing some good stuff this year, but we haven’t won anything yet. A trophy, though, that’s something no one can take away.”

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U.S. Open Cup Sep 19, 2018
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