Changes are coming to the core that makes up this Philadelphia Union team. According to initial reports by Pablo Maurer and Tom Bogert of The Athletic, it seems Union is set to move on from both left-back Kai Wagner and long-serving Captain Ale Bedoya in the off-season.
I guess It’s not entirely surprising that Union will start the 2024 season without Ale Bedoya and Kai Wagner. Kai Wagner’s future with the club has been a hot topic of decision for a number of seasons now, with the player being public about his interest in either going back to Europe or receiving a pay raise outside of what Union seemingly values him at.
Ale Bedoya, Union’s captain for the previous 8 seasons, signed a one-year extension with the club in September of last year which indicated that the 2023 season could be his final run-out with Union. But even if the signs of Kai Wagner heading elsewhere and Ale Bedoya’s career coming to an end were staring you in the face, it doesn’t make getting confirmation of the news any easier, for the moment.
Union can’t – or won’t – keep Kai
26-year-old Kai Wagner was snatched out of the 3rd tier of the German Bundesliga by Philadelphia in 2019. Though he was an unknown asset to MLS fans at the time, what a diamond in the rough and fan favorite Wagner has become. Kai Wagner will leave the club having played the 5th most games in club history across all competitions with a total of 168 appearances, logging over 14,700 minutes for Union. When playoffs are all said and done, Kai Wagner could surpass Brian Carroll as Union’s 3rd all-time minutes-played leader.
Wagner currently sits 2nd in assists in club history across all competitions with 31, and set a new record for most assists in an MLS season in 2022 with his 15 helpers which landed him a spot in MLS’s best XI. The future for Wagner isn’t finalized yet but Maurer and Bogert reported that Wagner has an offer from Greek side AEK Athens, keeping Wagner’s hopes of a European return in the cards.
The duo also reported that a move inside MLS isn’t off the table for Wagner just yet, though it should be noted that MLS teams would only be able to offer Kai Wagner, or any free agent, a 15% pay increase from his previous contract, as outlined in the CBA.
No matter where or when Kai Wagner leaves, Union fans are going to miss this guy and that was on display Saturday night with numerous “Pay Kai Wagner” chants echoing around Subaru Park. If it were up to the fans, I don’t think Kai Wagner would ever leave this club.
Bedoya’s future clarified in quick conversation
Ale Bedoya, in his 8th year as a member of the Philadelphia Union, looks to be leaving on less-than-ideal terms as well. According to the report by Tom Bogert and Pablo Maurer, an anonymous source says that Union’s 2024 plan to move on from the 36-year-old long-serving Captain made its way to Bedoya sometime last week.
After approaching Sporting Director, Ernst Tanner to get a clearer picture on the situation, the source says that it was communicated to Bedoya that he would “not be returning and would need to find a new club” in a conversation that lasted all of 20-something seconds. Bedoya will leave the club being 1 of just 3 players to reach 200 career MLS starts for the Union and leads the club in total minutes played across all competitions.
He’s notched 27 goals and 28 assists in all competitions for the club – but Ale Bedoya’s greatest impact on this club isn’t something that can be quantified, it doesn’t show up on a state sheet. Ale Bedoya has been an incredible leader and Captain for Philadelphia Union, both on and off the pitch.
He’s never been shy about his hopes to end gun violence and has been the voice and face of the Union amidst Philadelphia’s growing soccer community. Union fans should feel really lucky that they’ve had such a gem representing them for all these years.
It’s unclear what Ale Bedoya’s future plans are at the moment, but we know it’s not on the field with Philadelphia Union. Roster-wise, moving on from Bedoya probably makes sense with his age and injury record – but I can’t help but notice a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth with the way it seems to be ending.
To me, the way in which you leave a partnership/relationship with someone says a lot. And again while I do agree that moving on from Bedoya might be in Union’s best interest, I also feel that there might be an approach that exemplifies a bit more gratitude for what your long-serving Captain has done for you.
8 years of service is worth more than a 20-second conversation in my opinion, but I also recognize that I’m forming this opinion with only some context and likely just one side of the story.
Regardless of how the conversation actually went, I hope the send-off is adequate because this guy deserves it. When asked last season about the impact Ale Bedoya has had on Philadelphia Union, Jim Curtin said “To be honest, they should build a statue for that guy at this club.”
Busy off-season looks to be coming for Union
Ale Bedoya and Kai Wagner aren’t the only ones looking likely to leave Philadelphia in the off-season, with offers for Juliana Carranza to Europe heating up over the summer transfer window and Olivier Mbaizo requesting a transfer away earlier this season. And who knows what other players are in the sights of teams abroad, we could see a very different version of this Union squad come Pre-Season in February.
Maybe it’s not all bad though, having a little shake-up in the squad. Sir Alex Ferguson once said that the cycle of a team’s success lasts maybe 4 years, and then some sort of change is needed in order to freshen the environment up. With DP striker Julian Carranza’s eventual transfer away likely to match or surpass the highest fee in Philly’s history, Ernst Tanner should have plenty of space and money to re-bolster the squad.
It’s going to be a huge window for both Tanner and Union, one that could change the trajectory of this club for better or for worse. It’s hard to imagine this team without the likes of Ale Bedoya, Kai Wagner, and maybe even Julian Carranza and Oliver Mbaizo…but it seems like it’s time to come to terms with that and start planning for the future without them.
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