The announcement that MLS players will be permitted to conduct individual workouts at outdoor team training fields is welcome news for many around the league, and a chat with Alejandro Bedoya underlines why.
“In the first two-and-a-half weeks I was on top of it, in the gym every day,” the Philadelphia Union captain said of his coronavirus shutdown routine in a conversation with MLSsoccer.com.
“And then you just kind of lose a little bit of motivation, right? I think everybody goes through that, just being [inside], not knowing what's going to happen … You can do the bike and the rowing machine all you want, but it's not the same as being match fit.”
Bedoya is luckier than most when it comes to staying fit: His wife Beatrice is a physical therapist and former player herself, and one of their neighbors in Philly’s Fishtown district is a CrossFit enthusiast with a substantial home gym he shares with them. It’s still been a challenge during the sustained, unprecedented holding pattern over the past several weeks, unsure of what the global pandemic might serve up next.
Then factor in their two small children, Santino and Milena, ages 5 and 2, and the situation intensifies.
“I was still training hard, in the gym as much as I could be, and just doing creative things with the kids, all that we can do,” said Bedoya. “And now as time has gone on, it’s like, what else could I do with the kids? I don't know. We’ve run out of things. I'm sure Amazon has made a killing off parents like ourselves who are just ordering the next little gadget or next thing to keep them busy in between.
“Like anybody with kids, young kids especially, when they're less independent, it's been demanding. But at the same time we get to spend a lot more family time that we've had in a while.”
Like his peers, the US international is eager to return to the pitch, or at the very least make some positive steps in that direction, all the while maintaining an awareness of sports' modest importance in the grand scheme of things.
Even if the shutdown runs through the summer, he’s “still cautiously optimistic” that MLS can resume match play and complete some semblance of a complete season, be it in empty stadiums, limited markets or with players quarantined and maintaining a level of social distancing.
“I think first of all we need testing to be more widely available, and that's probably expensive to get,” he said. “We realize that we're probably not going to play in front of fans … but as long as the players are healthy and we're good to go, I think everybody could use sports coming back. We’re not more important than the general population, but if we can be careful about it, I'm sure people will be more than happy to be able to watch these games on their TVs at home.
“We've seen that sports don't take precedence to health and safety, but that they are very important to us as a society as a whole. We all could use some sports to watch and just enjoy again.”
Bedoya views the current situation not only as an athlete and family man, but from an entrepreneur’s perspective. The Colombian-American midfielder is involved in several businesses, including M.A.S. Café, a family coffee operation with his sister Marcela and brother Santiago, and a real estate firm called Brighthill Partners. He also just completed the Harvard Business School's Crossover Into Business Program, an initiative launched to help professional athletes prepare for business ventures during and after their playing careers.
Tonight, I am celebrating being able to say that I have officially graduated from Harvard! @harvardhbs To be a part of the #CrossoverIntoBusiness program this semester was nothing short of an incredible gratifying learning experience for which I am grateful for. 🙏 I was able to improve my business acumen while also becoming a more confident person. Huge thanks to @anitaelberse for providing myself and others with this wonderful opportunity. You’re a rockstar. And of course thank you to my awesome mentors and current MBA students @amyhernandezturcios & @thejoshsquared for playing a big role in my growth. Thanks for pushing me & being challenging so I could develop certain aspects within the business world that I needed to sharpen up on. Shoutout as well to @kaiasimmz & @melcolmx for their work in managing & guiding 40 athletes, from all over in this class, in what was a very smooth process. Have to also acknowledge my family @beahilland for putting up with me while I spent many hours reading, studying up on case studies, and Zoom calls. The poster this morning from the family before my final presentation was an amazing gesture and got me on the right mindset! We’re in this together. All the best to all the new graduates of this course & and the students in the current MBA program. It’s been a real pleasure connecting and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for all of us. 🎓 🍾 👍 👌 #MoreThanAnAthlete
His coffee project was set to open a storefront cafe and shop in Fort Lauderdale, near where he grew up in Weston, Fla., a gambit that’s now on hold. “Fortunately,” he emphasized. “It was a good thing that we didn't break ground yet, because obviously those businesses have been impacted greatly with this pandemic.”
Bedoya's south Florida upbringing – paired with his extensive club career in Europe – has also deepened his perspective on the Union’s youth movement, spearheaded by minority owner Richie Graham’s hefty investment in their YSC Academy. That includes an elite private school for youth prospects alongside a professional-style schedule and facilities.
“It's no secret that I think the pay-to-play system that we have in the States has been detrimental,” he said. “I speak from personal experience – I was on such a great club team, Weston FC, growing up. We were one of the best teams in the country, incredible players, [including] some African-American players and Latino players down in Miami. We had to always hold fundraisers or a lot of times these guys wouldn't be able to join us at tournaments and college showcases that we were part of, because they couldn't afford it.
“So I'm glad to see an investor like Richie Graham who really believes in the program and what it can do for a youth academy and development in this country. And we're seeing it take off now.”
Bedoya’s been impressed with Homegrown Player signings such as Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie and Anthony Fontana, who’ve climbed up to the first team, earned their spot and regularly seek him out for guidance and feedback. He believes the next step is to crank up that pipeline and push the kids on to steady MLS minutes and, eventually, transfers abroad.
“The hard part is to maintain that level of consistency that you have to bring week in and week out to have a long career. These kids are still so young, but the good thing is that they are getting more chances when they're getting mixed in with our first team,” he said. “In Europe that's what I noticed a lot: The guys who they really believe in, they bring him into the first team training sessions and then have them mix … We've been able to mix in a lot of these kids, bring them in and give them minutes, which is so important for their development as well.
“The next stage of it is for them to get consistent minutes in the first team, and then get sold to hopefully very good European clubs where the club can make some of that money investment back and they can keep investing it. … At the Union they've been given a lot of opportunities and they're going to continue to get opportunities. They’ve just got to make the most of it.”