There were moments in the Union’s 2-1 loss at Orlando City on Thursday when captain Alejandro Bedoya looked a step off the pace.
To be sure, any number of players would have in Orlando’s withering summer heat and humidity. But the point was reinforced when Quinn Sullivan replaced Sergio Santos in the 69th minute and delivered a big boost of energy as the Union chased a tying goal.
Union manager Jim Curtin is often reluctant to sub Bedoya off, and Bedoya often doesn’t need it. But he is 34 and not getting younger. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to play a little less now, especially during multiple-game weeks, if it helps him have a little more in the tank later in the year.
Sullivan can help make that happen. And as the 17-year-old from Bridesburg earns more playing time, he’s also earning Curtin’s trust to be more than just a late-game sub.
“Quinn’s been amazing,” Curtin said after the game. “Whether it’s two minutes, if it’s 10 minutes, if it’s 20 minutes, he gets chances no matter how many minutes he gets. He makes plays.”
Against Orlando, those chances included three shots on goal – one of which hit Lions defender Kyle Smith’s face on the goal line in the game’s final seconds.
Sullivan’s appearance was his 10th of the season. His 21 minutes played was his second-most of any appearance, trailing only the 61 minutes he played in his first professional start.
“Only 11 guys can start, but whenever you’re called upon, make the most of the opportunities,” Curtin said. “Certainly the staff has taken notice of how well Quinn’s done in training and in the games.”
Has he done enough yet to earn the right to enough playing time so Bedoya can get some real rest? Bedoya has started every game except the one for which he was suspended this year, after playing every game but two last year, and he has played fewer than 70 minutes just once in those 43 total appearances.
We might get a hint of where Sullivan really stands when the Union visit Inter Miami on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale (7:30 p.m., PHL17). Miami is woeful, with the worst record in MLS (2-8-2, 8 points) despite the league’s highest-payroll and big-name stars Gonzalo Higuaín, Blaise Matuidi, and Rodolfo Pizarro.
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But while Sullivan brought an attacking spark, Thursday’s game was a reminder that Bedoya’s defensive contributions matter beyond central midfield. He’s the cover when right back Olivier Mbaizo gets forward, which is a big part of the Union’s playbook. And if Mbaizo gets caught upfield, Bedoya’s positioning becomes more important.
“Ale’s our captain, he’s our leader – we’ve got to be smart, though,” Curtin said. “In this type of climate, where he’s just trying to push so hard, you can kind of, you know, reach for a ball that maybe you shouldn’t, and you can damage yourself and you can hurt yourself. So we’ll be proactive in that regard.”
Curtin said he’d “put a team out on the field [vs. Miami] that is fresh, that’s ready to go – but also one that has to win a game. That’s the bottom line.”