The U.S. national team is big into BlackBerry Messenger, which allows the players to connect privately from their professional outposts around the world, and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has an apt new BBM status: Things happen for a reason. Bedoya was planning to spend time off with his girlfriend in Barcelona after his omission from the U.S.'s 23-man Gold Cup roster, but on May 29 U.S. Soccer called: Benny Feilhaber was injured, and Bedoya was needed to fly in from Sweden, where he plays for √ñrebro. "Talk about a swing of emotions," says the 24-year-old Boston College alum, "but I came into camp with a lot of confidence."
Bedoya repaid coach Bob Bradley's trust, getting minutes in the group stage and on Sunday earning a surprise start in place of Landon Donovan (who'd flown overnight from his sister's wedding in California) to help the U.S. beat Jamaica 2--0 in the Gold Cup quarterfinals at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. As a rightsided midfielder, Bedoya made dangerous runs and created space for teammates in the convincing U.S. win, which set up Wednesday's semifinal with Panama. "He was energetic and effective," Donovan said of Bedoya. "Everything we've asked of him he's done."
In a tournament in which the U.S. has not played its best soccer, the brightest note has been the incorporation of new contributors who played little to no role in the previous World Cup cycle: Bedoya; German-American midfielder Jermaine Jones, 29, who on Sunday scored his first U.S. goal; forward Juan Agudelo, 18; defender Tim Ream, 23; and Eric Lichaj, 22, who might be the long-awaited answer at left back. Lichaj has adapted well after switching from his natural right-side spot. "It's a little bit awkward," Lichaj says. "I'm trying to get better with my left foot, so it's still a work in progress."
Lichaj played a year of college ball at North Carolina before signing with England's Aston Villa, then went on loan to Leeds in February. Injuries there necessitated a move from right to left back. "He's strong, athletic and fast, and he gets up and down [the left] side," says U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley. Since the man in front of Lichaj, Clint Dempsey, likes to cut inside from left midfield, it's incumbent on Lichaj to move forward and provide width in the attack, as he did against Jamaica.
Bob Bradley has been criticized for some disjointed U.S. performances, but he's trying to balance winning the CONCACAF crown with introducing players who can help in the new cycle for the World Cup, the ultimate prize. "The transitioning of the team is one of the most challenging aspects of coaching," Bradley says. As the U.S. entered the final stretch of the Gold Cup, he could feel more confident in a few more young players.
Now on SI.com
Grant Wahl in Houston for the U.S.--Panama Gold Cup semifinal at SI.com/soccer
Pots of Gold
CONCACAF deserves credit for turning the Gold Cup into a moneymaking event that draws massive crowds to some of the U.S.'s largest stadiums. But too many aspects of the tournament are geared to profit at the expense of competitive fairness. In the future the event must take place outside the U.S. more often—all 11 Gold Cups have been staged Stateside (Mexico has cohosted twice)—even if that means lower gate receipts. And there must be a real draw instead of CONCACAF's prearranged alignment, which sets up rematches from the group stage in the knockout rounds (such as the U.S.--Panama semifinal) in an effort to keep the two powerhouses, Mexico and the U.S., from meeting until the final. In other words it's time for this tournament to grow up.
JIM LO SCALZO/EPA (BEDOYA)
FLAIR WARNING Bedoya, who wasn't on the original roster, made his case with a creative attacking style against Jamaica.
MIKE STROBE/GETTY IMAGES (FAN)