It's almost too easy to see Alejandro Bedoya as the avatar for Philadelphia Union's 2018 season. Underrated and underappreciated, Bedoya put together exactly the type of season he was brought to Philly to produce: Consistent, intelligent, energetic, and central to everything the Union did well. The club's right-sided approach in attack is easy to tie to Bedoya's style of play. As one of the more versatile members of the US National Team pool over the past decade, Bedoya was comfortable in spaces on the right, through the center, and around the box. This positional flexibility combined well with Borek Dockal's nose for open spaces and Keegan Rosenberry's ability to play one-touch, quick-hitting passes in tight spaces. Bedoya and the Union produced some memorable movements up the right side of the pitch and Bedoya was nearly always at the heart of it all.
Equally important to Philly's success in 2018, though, was the defensive work put in by the team captain. Without a true defensive midfielder, the Union needed to become extremely adept at protecting the center against counterattacks. This meant that Haris Medunjanin needed to remain in the central third of the pitch in attack and Bedoya had to make the right recovery runs to prevent dangerous isolations out wide after turnovers. A year ago, this was a bit of a struggle, but the fluidity of movement among the midfielders this season made the Union more defensively secure. As assistant coach BJ Callaghan noted in one of the club's Inside the Film Room segments, midfield spacing was key to the club's success throughout the year, and Bedoya was tasked with covering the most ground and taking up the greatest variety of positions.
Another subtle aspect of Bedoya's game that will fit well with incoming Sporting Director Ernst Tanner's plans is the immediate vertical transition runs made into the opposition back line. Watching Red Bull Salzburg and Leipzig play, you often see overlapping vertical runs made just after turnovers as the Red Bull clubs seek to put players in advance of the ball so they can dominate the forward areas before a defense can organize. Bedoya made similar runs in 2018 for the Union, though his purpose may have been slightly different. Bedoya's runs into the back line were often of the decoy variety, meant to open a lane into the center from the wing by pushing defenders back and stretching the opposition's defensive shape. These runs also left Bedoya in a good position to form triangles with Rosenberry and the right winger as Philly advanced the ball forward, and he could create a numerical overload near the top of the opposition final third as the Union build up play became oriented to attack the goal.
The final area in which Bedoya had a strong influence on the 2018 Union was in the locker room. If you had 'Bedoya's role in getting my message across' on your bingo card in Jim Curtin's press conferences, you were likely a very successful bingo participant last season.* The Union head coach often praised his captain for helping to ensure that the technical staff's message resonated with the players and was clearly understood. Bedoya's tactical intelligence (which is very, very real) and he stature as a vet that found considerable success abroad meant his buy-in carried weight with the rest of the team. Even when Philly struggled to turn its chance creation into goals at the start of the season -- the Union's Goal Differential prior to beating Montreal on May 12 was -0.89 goals/game, but according to American Soccer Analysis their Expected Goal Differential was +0.20; only Toronto FC was without shouting distance of a gap that size -- Bedoya continued to trust the strategy and tactics, and the club's turnaround and run into the playoffs showed he was right to do so.
In 2018, Ale Bedoya led the Union to a cup final and a playoff berth, and he created a position that might be best identified as a No. 8+. The captain was asked to do all the work of a No. 8 without having the defensive support of a No. 6. This requires a level of awareness that few have. Luckily for the Union, Ale Bedoya is one of those few.