As a youth soccer player growing up in Weston, Alejandro Bedoya became familiar with many South Florida fields, including FIU Stadium.
Bedoya returned to FIU Stadium on Monday morning, wearing the uniform that defines his career milestone. The 26-year-old midfielder was part of the U.S. men’s soccer team that went through a one-hour practice for an important upcoming two-match set.
The United States will play at Costa Rica on Friday night in the first of two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers over a four-day span. A win Friday or at a home match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 10 could qualify the United States for the 2014 World Cup.
“I have many great memories growing up and playing here,” Bedoya said. “I played many times on this field. It’s always emotional coming home and even more special now as a member of the national team.”
Bedoya, in his first season with Nantes of the French First Division, has made 20 previous appearances with the national team.
“This area always had tremendous talent,” said Bedoya, who spent his formative years with the Weston FC youth club and later led Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High to the 2005 state championship. “Many of the teams I played with and against had talented players, even some more talented than me. Those who excelled did so with discipline.”
Bedoya outlasted many of his youth-league contemporaries, and his professional soccer journey took him to club tenures in Sweden and Scotland before his current stop in France. But Bedoya gladly will welcome the temporary break from club play to help the United States’ bid for a World Cup berth.
Through six matches, the United States leads the final phase of qualifiers with 13 points — two ahead of second-place Costa Rica. The top three finishers of the final six teams remaining in qualifiers will receive automatic World Cup bids.
“We feel very confident; we have the players and team to win these next two games,” Bedoya said. “We understand we will have a difficult game at Costa Rica. But we are going to come out with our maximum effort to win it.”
Costa Rica will seek to avenge a 1-0 loss against the United States in a qualifier on March 22. The game was played in a snowstorm in Commerce City Colo. FIFA denied Costa Rica officials’ appeal to re-play the match because of the weather conditions.
“We have a lot of respect for the Costa Rican team,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We’re looking forward to it. We would love to go to San Jose and approach it very positively.”
The United States is riding an unbeaten 12-match streak. In addition to its current top spot among the final qualifiers, the United States won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.
“It definitely gives the team confidence with every win,” Klinsmann said. “World Cup qualifying is down to the moment. Once you get out on the field, sold-out stadiums and a lot of tension and a bit of nervousness you have to prove yourself.”
U.S. veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard gladly welcomes the team’s hunted role.
“It puts more pressure on us, which I think we thrive off,” Howard said. “We’re in a good frame of mind. We’re in a good rhythm and winning helps.”
Klinsmann will include three-time World Cup participant Landon Donovan on the roster that will play against Costa Rica and Mexico. Donovan did not play in the first matches of the hexagonal phase and rejoined the team for the Gold Cup.
“We feel we have a group of players that are very special and can compete with most teams in the world,” said Donovan, the United States’ all-time leading goal scorer with 56. “It doesn’t mean that it always comes off, but it means we are very confident right now.”