Alejandro Bedoya remains almost certain to miss the Union’s regular-season finale against New York City FC because of a quadriceps strain, and Jim Curtin isn’t hiding from how hard it will be to replace the team’s captain on the field.
“It’s his first muscle injury that he’s ever had in his career, which is pretty remarkable‚” Curtin said in a news conference after Thursday’s practice. “The weekend’s game, it will be difficult to turn around for that.”
The Union have other players who can take Bedoya’s place, including Jamiro Monteiro, Warren Creavalle and Anthony Fontana. But while each has some of the captain’s skills, none has all of them quite like he does: tenacious defense, smart passing, vocal leadership and a seemingly infinite gas tank.
“I could play Ale at right back. I could play Ale as a right winger. I could play Ale as an 8. I could tell him to sit as a 6. I could play him as a 10,” Curtin said, referring at the end to the central, defensive and play-making roles in midfield. He would know, too, having played Bedoya in all those roles over the years.
“I’m not going to lie and say that’s easy to replace,” Curtin continued. “We could go, really, three different ways at least in terms of formation, in terms of personnel, because of what Ale means to us. It’s not a clear-cut, like-for-like replacement."
Curtin said he hadn’t yet decided what Sunday’s starting lineup will be, and of course he wouldn’t want to reveal it in advance. Though NYCFC has clinched first place in the East, it will likely play its starters Sunday since it has a first-round playoff bye. That means it won’t play another game until Oct 23 or 24.
The hole created by Bedoya’s absence will impact a lot of players, but especially Marco Fabián. For all the criticism over Fabián’s eight-game goal drought, the Union’s biggest star remains a potent attacking threat. He ranks No. 1 on the team in shots per 90 minutes (4.5) and shots from outside the 18-yard box per 90 minutes (3.0).
In the latter category, his average is at least double that of any other regular player. In fact, only Jamiro Monteiro averages more than one.
Fabián also ranks No. 2 in chances created per 90 minutes among regular players (2.1), trailing only Ilsinho (2.5). They’re the only players averaging more than two chances created per 90 minutes.
As such, the real question about Fabián might be how Curtin can set up the team to get the best out of the player. Forcing Fabián to drop deep into midfield to get the ball doesn’t help. Getting the ball to him when he’s in a good place to shoot or pass does.
“It all starts with finding him on the ball as much as possible in advanced spots,” Curtin said. “We’re at our best — and our highest goal output comes — when those guys are staying high up in the dangerous spots, on the other side of the other team’s 6, in between the 6 and the centerbacks.”