Curtin urges Philadelphia to extend Ale Bedoya: "He should 100% be back"


In true Philadelphia Union style, Jim Curtin’s side fought until the bitter end in Saturday night’s 1-0 Eastern Conference Semifinal loss to FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium.

For most of the match, neither side could find an edge, and with the score tied at 0-0 heading into the final minutes, extra time looked all but assured. But a 94th-minute set piece provided the deciding moment when Álvaro Barreal collected a short restart from Luciano Acosta and floated the ball into the box for Ian Murphy. The young defender headed that delivery down to center back Yerson Mosquera, who slotted home the game-winner.

Delerium for the home side meant heartbreak for the visitors, who were left to wonder if the goal should have stood at all. Head referee Ismail Elfath held the ensuing kick-off for Video Review to check a possible offside on Murphy, but the match's video assistant referees ultimately decided not to recommend the play for further review, leaving the goal to stand and eliminating Philly from the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“It's always disappointing when [the season] comes to an end, and so abruptly too with an indecisive kind of play. VAR’s there for a reason, to get things right. And I'm not sure that it worked out tonight,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the match.

Asked if he was given an explanation for the decision after the play, Curtin expressed further frustration with the situation.

“We have an iPad obviously on the bench. Every player that saw it, every coach that saw it said, 'Don't worry, it's offsides, it's offsides. It's coming back. [Murphy's] offsides,’” Curtin relayed of the game’s biggest moment. “That's also why we didn't have a change up immediately because it was so clear to everybody that was telling me. I think the word that we got from the center referee was that they did review it and it was deemed onside."

Despite his disappointment with the non-call, the head coach was adamant it wasn’t the sole reason for his side’s loss, citing a lack of precision in the final third and sloppy marking on the goal as other key factors: “We still did lose assignments on that last free kick, whether it's offsides or not. So there's always things you can improve and do better.”

Bedoya’s future

Now the Union are left to pick up the pieces of a long 2023 campaign – one that saw them make deep runs in Concacaf Champions League and Leagues Cup – and Curtin is already looking ahead to key roster decisions the club will have to make this winter.

In October, _The Athletic_ reported the Union do not plan on offering an extension to longtime club captain, Alejandro Bedoya, whose contract expires in 2023. But after the match, Curtin made clear he’d like to see the midfielder back with Philly next season.

“I've been on record a million times. Alejandro's bigger than anybody that's ever been at our club, myself included,” said the head coach who just finished his 10th season at the helm for the Union. “He's bigger than anybody. He should 100% be back. His talk and his play on the field speaks for itself.”

Regardless of what Curtin wants, the decision ultimately lies with the club’s front office led by sporting director Ernst Tanner, adding another layer of potential friction to proceedings: “I think anywhere in the world, the head coach would have a say in what's up with this captain. I think there was a miscommunication for sure. So we'll see how that plays out.”

Heightening stakes even further is the fact that two-time MLS All-Star and one-time MLS Best XI defender Kai Wagner – who missed Saturday’s match due to suspension for violating the league’s anti-discrimination policy – is also now out of contract and reportedly leaving the club.

Star striker Julián Carranza could be out the door as well, having garnered transfer interest from abroad.

"Look, every offseason there's going to be changes," said Curtin, referencing Wagner and Carranza's possible departures. "Hopefully they're not drastic and hopefully they're well thought out."

Heads held high

If multiple key pieces do leave the Union, it could mean the end of an era of unprecedented success, albeit one that hasn’t resulted in the ultimate prize: MLS Cup. The team has made six-straight postseason trips, earned a 2020 Supporters’ Shield, and nearly climbed the final mountaintop last season with a run to MLS Cup that ended in a heartbreaking penalty-kick shootout loss at LAFC. Still, they've never put all the pieces together when it counts most.

But no matter what the future holds, Curtin is proud of the way his team performed both this season and in seasons past, consistently going toe-to-toe with MLS' best despite a payroll that’s reportedly in the lower half of the league.

“That's what pro sports are. It only ends perfect for one team, and there's 29 teams in our league, so it's really difficult to win and then get over that final hump,” said Curtin.

“So look, our group punches above their weight. We give everything, my players absolutely give everything for the badge, give everything for the fans. And yeah, we're underdogs in the majority of our big games. I know when we're favorites, I know when we're underdogs and I can't ever be upset with how my players performed. I think our record over the last five, six years speaks for itself, and our players give me everything. So I can't be mad at them. I sleep easy at night knowing that we do the absolute best we possibly can with what we have.”