Eleven years — and a lifetime of international soccer experiences — have passed since Alejandro Bedoya won a state championship with St. Thomas Aquinas High School and played his last club match for the Weston Fury.
He has evolved from a skinny kid with seemingly impossible dreams to a World Cup veteran who was one of the most-consistent American players in Europe the second half of this season with FC Nantes in the French first division. Higher-profile teams have taken notice. His name is popping up on English Premier League shopping lists as the summer transfer window opens.
Bedoya, 29, is delighted to be back in South Florida this week training with the U.S. national team in preparation for next month’s Copa America. The opening game June 3 against Colombia in Santa Clara, California, will be extra special for Bedoya because his father and grandfather played pro soccer in Colombia.
The other local player in camp is Fabrice “Fafa” Picault, a 25-year-old Haitian-American forward who grew up in Cutler Bay and plays in the second division in Germany with St. Pauli. Picault left Miami Killian High at age 16 to pursue a pro career in Italy. He toiled there a few years, came home to play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, went back to Europe to play in the Czech Republic, and landed with St. Pauli, where the coach recommended U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann give him a look.
Boca Raton native Jozy Altidore was due to join the team next week, but suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out six to eight weeks.
“It’s a big blow for us and for him, personally,” Klinsmann said Tuesday. “He had so much drive and ambitions toward Copa America. He was preparing himself in high gear. He hoped to peak in June for this very special tournament.”
Bedoya is coming off his third season with Nantes, where he has become a crowd favorite. Last week, after the team’s final home game, he stepped onto the field with his 13-month old son, Santino, and led 30,000 fans in the “I Believe That We Will Win!” chant.
He scored four goals in 21 games this season.
“Ale had a tremendous year at Nantes,” Klinsmann said. “We are pleased with that process because he stands his ground. He wants to prove a point, mainly to himself, but also to everyone else that he’s a high-quality player. He has that hunger.
“He’s always had tremendous attitude, positive character, and he gives you everything he has; but sometimes his performance curve went up and down. He has become more consistent lately. Hopefully, he can prove it in Copa America.”
Bedoya said the Copa is a golden opportunity for U.S. players “to showcase’’ themselves because they will be up against the best teams and most of the best players in South America.
The special-edition 100th anniversary of the Copa America — the most-important tournament in the Americas other than the World Cup — is being held June 3-26 in the United States. It is the first time it is being held outside South American soil. The field features the top 10 South American teams and six from CONCACAF.
Among the players on provisional rosters are Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Brazil’s Dani Alves and Rafinha, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and Claudio Bravo; Real Madrid’s Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Klinsmann said. “The world is looking at us as potential host for World Cup 2026. It’s going to be showcase for United States and the players. Once we start June 3 it’s going to rock. It can’t get much bigger than this.”
Bedoya conceded that he’d like to challenge himself outside France, if given the chance.
“You strive to play at the highest level you can. France is one of the best leagues, but I’d like to try and see if I can make it to higher level. If not, MLS is in the back of my mind. That’s no secret. But in the meantime, I’d like to stick it out in Europe a couple more years.”