Which United States national team player has swapped kits with Zlatan, James, and Falcao in the past year? Eight by Eight’s Andrew Helms sat down with Alejandro Bedoya in Boston last week and talked about his impressive European career, the future of the U.S. team, and how to lead over 38,000 Frenchmen in song. Does he have your attention now?
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Alejandro Bedoya. Unlike some of his higher profile teammates, the spotlight eludes the soft-spoken midfielder. But beneath his quiet humility rests an unflinching confidence earned in the furnace of European football. Arguably the top American field player plying his trade in Europe, Bedoya’s playing career has taken him from Sweden to Scotland and France, heeding Jurgen Klinsmann’s command to consistently prove his game “on another level.” It’s time to start paying attention to Alejandro Bedoya.
It’s been three months since the World Cup. Looking back, when you think about the tournament what do you think of?
Of course it was an unbelievable, unforgettable experience. But sometimes you think about what it would have been if we’d advanced past Belgium, what could have been. You think about that if we beat Belgium, the game would have been the day after the Fourth of July on a weekend, too. That would have captured many, many more people in the States, and that would have been an amazing experience. But then again I thought we put in a great shift, a team effort, and I mean we played against the top teams and best players in the world.
Jurgen Klinsmann recently said at the 2018 World Cup the goal is the semifinal. When you heard that what was your reaction?
I think that says a lot about what he wants and what he expects, and I think that only motivates players. You always want to try to improve and get better. I work hard in training everyday, sometimes you stay after as well to work on things: your crossing, your touch, everything else. It sets a standard. He sets the bar high, and for us it just pushes every player to work that much harder to always be on your toes.
As a team, do you talk about how to get there?
You work on that in training all the time. I think everything has been progressive with Coach Klinsmann. The one way we work on the field and the way we do things in trainings and in games. Now you can see the youth movement coming in. Some of the youth kids are just so different than when I was growing up. They have no fear, they are willing to attack. The way we want to play now is at such a high pace with a lot of pressure all over the place. I think moving forward, it’s going to bode well
It’s always a work in progress to change everything, the mentality of people and things like that. But why not? In four years so much can change. If we keep progressing and doing better and having no fear to take on the bigger teams.
As a veteran player on this roster, do you feel your role shifting on the team?
It’s funny, I feel so old now. I like to think I’m still young, but then at that camp in Prague, I run into Emerson Hyndman and he looks like a fourteen year-old and that makes me feel so old. But talking to Jurgen over the past month or two, he definitely wants me to take on more of a leadership role. I’m not the most outspoken guy, but I am a hard-worker and I try to lead by example, and I hope I can do that with the young kids and show them that it takes a lot of commitment, it takes a lot of discipline to stay and maintain this level and be consistent. So I definitely feel my role has increased with this team.
Looking back over your career, you left Boston College to head overseas. What motivated that decision to try the waters of Europe instead of playing in MLS?
People can get into the whole thing about being motivated by money, but for me the motivation was that Europe was where the best competition was and where the best players are. I always wanted to play there. I never really gave MLS a thought for that reason because I knew I wanted to test the waters, so to speak, and get a chance to go up against the best, and Sweden just happened to be that stepping stone where I thought it would be good for my career. And my good friend, my best friend, Charlie Davies, he took that same route from Boston College and then to Sweden. I would talk to him about how he was enjoying it, loving it, and if it wasn’t for that accident everybody could be saying that his career turned out great. He was doing well. I took that same path, and I thought it gave me a lot.
It was never about the money. Over there in Europe, they eat, sleep, breath soccer. You see the atmosphere—and obviously the atmosphere in the States is getting better—but there it’s amazing. I have no regrets and would never change anything. To see other cultures and experience so many different things and be able to travel amongst all these different countries. Pretty much from Miami to New York – a three hour trip—you could travel to anywhere in Europe for that length. I’ve loved growing as a person, definitely as a player as well.
You’re now in France with Nantes. What attracted you to Ligue 1?
During that time when I was making that decision, France’s league was becoming more attractive. You see that now with some of the big name players going over there. That’s what attracted me first. To me, it was one of the top five leagues, and to go to a club like Nantes—when you put everything in perspective—I thought to myself that would be the club that would give me the chance to be playing week in, week out consistently and also for me to get back with the national team and to make it to the World Cup, which was my goal. It worked out.
Obviously people back in the States don’t follow me so much because I’m in France and it’s not televised so much unless it’s PSG vs. Monaco, but if you look at the level of play that I’m up against—the teams, the players—then I think fans would begin to understand that I am doing something. I guess I go a little bit more unheard of because I’m not in the MLS or the English Premier League, but I’ve scored goals last year against Marseille, against Monaco, and I put on a “Man of the Match” performance against PSG. I don’t know who else can say that they’ve been playing as consistently as I have for a good club against big teams and big players in a great league.
You exchanged jerseys with Zlatan, right?
I’ve exchanged jerseys with Zlatan, with James, with Falcao. Some big players and some big teams.
I’ve always wondered, when you exchange jerseys with a player, what do you do with those jerseys?
They’re just sitting in my closet at home in Nantes. When you think about a career, as a kid you have so many dreams about playing against the top players in the world in the top league, and you think about one day when you come back to the States or when you have your dream home that you would hang up all these jerseys in your bachelor pad or in the pool room and get them framed. I’m sure I’ll have some ideas for where they will go up.
Did you wash Zlatan’s jersey?
Actually, yes I did. I remember it was after a French Cup game, and actually I wasn’t playing but we had played him before. In that previous game, he had already exchanged with another guy but I went up and spoke to him in Swedish because obviously I was in Sweden. He actually knew that I had played for Helsingborgs who are rivals with Malmo, the club where he is from. So that was kind of cool, and we just talked in Swedish. And he said, “I promise I’ll give you a jersey next time.”
And the next time we played PSG, I was actually injured and couldn’t play, but I was down hanging out in the tunnel. And then all of a sudden Zlatan was walking out, and I didn’t even say anything and he looked at me and he recognized me, and he said, “Okay, I forgot.” He talked to me and asked me why I wasn’t playing, and I told him I was injured. Then he gave me his jersey so that was a cool moment.
With more American players staying in MLS or returning to play in the United States, does it ever cross your mind that someday that might be something you want?
Of course, yeah. I always am happy when I come back to the States so that’s something I think about. I always say to myself that I’m never going to really live in Europe, and I’m always going to return to the States, so why not take advantage now. It really is the best competition. I’m loving it right now, but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking that I’d someday like to return to the States.
When you think about some of the guys that have come back it’s been for different reasons. Financially for some of them, you can’t say no that kind of money. For others, it’s family reasons. People have their own reasons. For me I’m still young—or I’d like to think I’m still young—and I still would like to prove myself week in and week out against the best competition. Some of the guys that come back, their careers have gone in different ways, or like I said it’s either about money or family or other personal reasons. But for me I’m still committed to proving myself and to getting better. I’m going to be able to do that playing in the league I’m playing in right now and against those teams and that competition.
Jurgen Klinsmann likes to talk about players leaving their comfort zones. Do you feel you’re doing that by being in France?
Of course, going to France at the beginning was very hard for me. Nobody really speaks English, and the French people are little bit more introverted. But I was able to make a name for myself, do well, and get the respect of the players and also the fans. I’m the guy that who after every victory sings to celebrate with the fans. The fans have taken a liking to me. So I think I’ve been able to get out of my comfort zone, so to speak. Who would’ve thought that an American would be getting their name chanted out in France? Like I said, many people don’t really see this because the French league isn’t that popular over here in the States, and they don’t really see how good I can be playing game in and game out. I play all over the place in Nantes—in the midfield, behind the striker—I think that says a lot about my versatility and the way I’ve focused to prove myself in Europe.
Can you talk about singing with the fans? What do you sing?
After every victory, I sing the “I Believe That We Will Win” song, which started when I scored my first goal for Nantes. Normally, after every victory somebody sings a song with the fans and that was just what popped into my head was that song, “I-Believe-That-We Will Win.”
And you sing it in English?
Yeah and everybody sings it in English, and I lead it. After every victory now, ever since that game last year when I scored my first goal against Ajaccio, that’s what we sing.
On Friday, you honored Landon Donovan’s career, is there a moment or story you have with Landon that stands out?
As a person, I can say that my first big cap came with the national team in Amsterdam against Holland. And obviously it’s my first game with the big guys, meeting everyone and all that. It’s Holland, you know, Robben, Sneijder, all those guys. And Landon was the first guy that came to me and patted me on the back and said, “Just go out and play the game. You’re here for a reason.” That was my first memory of him personally and that he was able to just reach out to me and let me know that everything would be alright says a lot about him as a person.
Soccer-wise, I will definitely remember this past Gold Cup when I assisted him on two goals against Honduras in the semifinal. That was in Dallas in a big stadium. For me to be able to just feed him – one of the most decorated players in U.S. Soccer—and for him to just finish it off, that was special.
Looking ahead, what do you see as your best position with the U.S. team?
I like to play like how I played against the Czech Republic in a 4-3-3. I would play like that when I was in Sweden. I think that’s my best position where I can get in between the lines and roam around a little bit and try to either get the ball and combine with people. I’m not the flashiest guy, I’m not the guy with the most speed on the wing that’s going to be able to take people on, but I like to play simple and combine with people and get in between the midfield and the defense.