Matchday

Philadelphia Union open to Alejandro Bedoya return: "It has to be a fit"

Alejandro Bedoya - PHI

Head coach Jim Curtin believes the Philadelphia Union’s spine is stable, with key players in key positions under contract for the foreseeable future.

But the heart of the team? That’s still to be decided.

Longtime captain Alejandro Bedoya is officially out of contract and the Eastern Conference contender is negotiating with the veteran midfielder, hopeful they can re-sign him for 2024.

“We'll have to find a solution that is best for Alejandro, that makes sense for the club, that makes sense for him, his family and that's our hope,” Curtin said in Monday's end-of-season media availability. “Nothing's done or finished or anything like that. But I think we all know what he's brought to the club, how he helps the young players develop. Finding and declaring that new role for Alejandro moving forward, whatever it might be, it has to be a fit.”

In October, The Athletic reported the Union don't plan on offering an extension to Bedoya. Then, after Philadelphia exited the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs at FC Cincinnati, Curtin was publicly at odds with sporting director Ernst Tanner over the 36-year-old's future. The manager said Bedoya is "bigger than anybody that's ever been at our club, myself included."

For now, the door remains open after "some mistakes in communication." This past season, Bedoya played in 28 games (2,020 minutes) with 0g/7a.

"He's a competitor,” Curtin said. “He’s still in good shape and because of his soccer, IQ and brain and his ability to stay fit, he still contributes in a big way to the group. He makes the players around him better.”

The former US international originally joined Philadelphia midway through the 2016 season from Ligue 1 side Nantes. He's been ever-present in the club's rise, reaching MLS Cup 2022 only to lose on penalty kicks at LAFC, and this season making deep runs in both Leagues Cup and Concacaf Champions Cup.

“Nobody doubts about what Ale Bedoya has done for the club," Tanner said. "And we also need to see where we are going in the future. We're basically thinking in cycles, and the future cycle for the next five years is definitely too long for a player who is 36 turning 37 years of age, that's clear.

“But at the same time, there are possibilities and we need to see what kind of role we can foresee for him and I think the discussions are going on so far.”

Wagner & Carranza

Another big question for the Union is the potential return of All-Star left back Kai Wagner, who like Bedoya, is out of contract. Tanner sounded optimistic about the 26-year-old German returning next season, though admitted it's up to Wagner whether he wants to stay in MLS or look to compete in Europe.

“There is an offer out for him and I got the feedback that it is very much appreciated what we offered,” Tanner said of the impending free-agent defender. “There is no decision until yet. I'm just waiting for the feedback.”

The Union also picked up Julián Carranza’s contract option, which Tanner said was Philadelphia’s “obligation.” The 23-year-old Argentine forward has scored 28 goals with 15 assists over the last two years and is the constant subject of transfer rumors.

“Carranza has always drawn a lot of interest. And it would have been easy to sell him in summer, to be honest. But we tried to keep the team together as far as possible,” Tanner said.

“That will not be the case in the future. I mean, if there is an offer, of course, with a one-year remaining contract duration, that's something you need to adjust accordingly. Otherwise, you might not have the resources to go and get somebody else in particular.”

Next man up

One of the Union's strengths is youth development, highlighted by brothers Brenden Aaronson and Paxten Aaronson previously heading to the Bundesliga and Mark McKenzie departing for Belgium – all on lucrative transfers abroad. And for 2024, Curtin expects Jack McGlynn and Nathan Harriel to further lock down regular starting spots.

Then there’s forward David Vazquez, who just competed for the United States at the Under-17 World Cup. Tanner said Philadelphia are currently negotiating with Vazquez about a homegrown player contract.

“I think we're going to replenish like every team does, a couple tweaks here and there," Curtin said. "We’ll have some young ones coming up, which is a real weapon that we have as a club. Our academy is a strong one.

"We have those guys coming up that I'll just say let a coach sleep easy at night because they know our system, they know our philosophy, they know what to expect in preseason.”

Trophy window

Curtin said the Union’s full yet-to-be-finalized roster will be critical in handling the rigors of multiple competitions in 2024 after playing in 51 games throughout 2023.

That might mean being creative with minutes and roster rotations. But there is certainty in Philadelphia, Curtin said, remaining an MLS Cup contender after losing to Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati, 1-0, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last month.

“I still believe very much we can lift MLS Cup,” Curtin said. “I think the past games we’ve been as close as you can possibly get to it. Even this season, are we as good as the final four teams you talked about? We’re somewhere right in the discussion.”