WASHINGTON — On a humid field at RFK Stadium, the United States needed a spark in their quarterfinal matchup with Jamaica on Sunday night.
They found one in Alejandro Bedoya.
The midfielder, who replaced Landon Donovan in the US line up after Bob Bradley chose to sit the LA Galaxy star, wasn't the Americans' best player on the night. His impact was subtle. He didn't score. He didn't earn an assist. He wasn't even Bradley's first choice at that position.
He did, however, provide attitude. And that, more than anything, was what the US needed.
Since before the start of the 2010 World Cup, the Yanks' most difficult opponents have been themselves and, more specifically, their struggles to start matches well. For the US, the key to a positive result is often not their talent level compared with that of their opponent, but rather how they open matches.
The US were decidedly the more skilled squad at RFK on Sunday, and couldn't afford to let Jamaica believe they could compete. Bedoya's effort from opening kickoff helped convince the opponents they were not only outclassed but also about to get out-hustled, out-worked and out-hearted.
The midfielder kept his energy high throughout the first 45-minute period—when the Red, White and Blue established control—by fighting off the energy-sucking humidity with great effect (an assist should also go to the US supporters who cheered non-stop not 15 feet from Bedoya's wide position).
But it was his initial efforts that made the biggest impact.
There he was, just moments after the whistle, streaking down the right flank—a tactic that, ironically, the Jamaicans thought they could exploit against US fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and Eric Lichaj—and outworking the opposition. The midfielder won throw-ins and corner kicks, worked in crosses, and competed admirably in the air. He was all legs and arms and energy and emotion with a maturity about his decisions that has been occasionally lacking in past starts for the US.
Rarely can a team can land a knockout blow in the first 10 minutes of a match, and Sunday was no exception. Although the US dominated, they didn't finish Jamaica off until Clint Dempsey's late goal.
Bedoya's efforts were more akin to the first few jabs after the opening bell. They came quicker than expected and stung the opposition more than anticipated, delivering a message that said, "We're ready. Are you?"
Theodore Whitmore's squad didn't have the answer. Or at least not the correct one.
The question, though, now becomes what to do with Bedoya. It's hard to see him retaining a starting role against Panama given the inevitable return of Donovan (although wouldn't that be the ultimate Bob Bradley unconventional move?) One good hour does not a starter make, nor should it—especially considering some of the 24-year-old's less-than-impressive performances for the US in the past.
So it's back to the bench for Bedoya, but Bradley should look to him quickly if the squad arrives flat Wednesday in Houston or, assuming a victory, against Mexico or Honduras in the Rose Bowl.
In those two matches, another player will have to do the body work early, landing the demoralizing jabs, hooks and straight rights.
Perhaps, however, Bedoya can do the knockout honors this time around.