Daily Times (Primos, PA)
Bedoya, Curtin eager for CONCACAF mettle test
Four summers ago, Alejandro Bedoya was lured back to the United States by the Union. The sales pitch, from a Philadelphia sports organization investing in itself anew and seeking to establish an identity, was a long-range plan, for a club that then had made the playoffs just once in six seasons.
The checklist isn’t complete, but Bedoya has seen items checked off the agenda – first playoff win, consecutive playoff berths, first trophy – and another such checklist item Wednesday.
The Union’s debut in the CONCACAF Champions League comes against Costa Rican power Deportivo Saprissa (6 p.m., FS1). It’s a chance for the MLS Supporters’ Shield holders to be tested against the best teams in North and Central America, an introduction to continental competition that remains a frontier for MLS to conquer.
“It’s the next step, the next phase,” Bedoya said Tuesday via Zoom. “This is what the club should be striving for year in and year out.”
Jim Curtin knows the CCL well, having taken part as a defender for the Chicago Fire. While the competition has changed, the challenge of performing in places like Saprissa remains very similar.
One wrinkle introduced by the pandemic is empty stands, with Saprissa’s legendarily rowdy, purpleclad supporters not in attendance. Saprissa is struggling by its standards in the Liga FPD, mired in third place after 16 rounds of the 22-game season, seven points shy of second. It is winless in the last five.
But Saprissa is in the middle of its season, not 10 days shy of opening day like the Union. That offers the fitness advantage and, arguably, a motivational edge in needing to salvage something from the campaign.
“It’s clear that maybe they aren’t having the season and not in the part of the table they want to be now,” Curtin said. “For Saprissa, though they’re struggling in the league right now, maybe they can use this as a way to make their season special.”
The Union won’t take CCL lightly. They’re short-handed, though Kacper Przybylko is training with only mild back pain and ready to go. But young players are in line to play at various positions, some in their pro debuts.
The matchup is a two-leg affair, advancement determined by aggregate score after next Wednesday’s return leg in Chester. Away goals are the tiebreaker if the score is tied, and the Union would love to nick a goal in San Jose. That informs the strategy for Curtin, coaching in his first two-leg tie.
“It becomes about getting through the first 90 minutes,” he said. “That’s essentially halftime. Recognizing that you can’t win the game in the first 90 minutes but you can lose it. As we’ve seen in the CONCACAF Champions League, in the last 15 minutes of games, things can change quickly.”
At 33, it’s Bedoya’s first CCL experience, though he’s played in the Europa League and is familiar with the continental territory via 66 U.S. caps. Many of the Union’s youngsters aspire to follow in his footsteps with the national team, and games like Wednesday’s offer early seasoning for that quest.
“This is the next level, in terms of our club, the progress that we’ve made, seeing how we compare on the international level in our region,” Bedoya said. “For the young guys, they won’t get to experience that hostile environment that they would under normal circumstances. But at the same time, you have to deal with the traveling, with the conditions … and the gamesmanship that comes with teams coming here and CONCACAF in general. All those things that grow and mature you as a player, these are things that the young kids have to deal with.”