Looking for an early MLS break - Ojai Bedward
Excelsior High School 2012 Manning Cup captain, Ojai Bedward, affectionately called 'Big 12' because of his enormous physique and affection for the number 12 jersey, just completed a very successful collegiate season.
Bedward helped his team, Bryant and Stratton-Syracuse, to the final of the national USCAA championship in November, where his team lost to University Maine of Fort Kent on penalties.
However, the powerful 21-year-old, who is also on the radar of many Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, is optimistic he can make an early break into the United States top flight when he participates in the Players' Development League (PDL) this summer.
The midfielder left Excelsior for Cloud County Community College in 2013 and spent two years at that institution before transferring to his present school, where he has seen his game improve and confidence grow since joining in September.
"The first two seasons, I was playing at Cloud County. The first season I got injured (knee), from which I have now recovered. The following season, I was injury free, and I had a great season, as I got selected to play in the conference All-Stars first team, scored six goals and had four assists," he told The Gleaner recently.
The player, who is likened to Manchester City's Yaya TourÈ on the college circuit because of his size and powerful runs from deep midfield, is sometimes played further forward by Byrant and Stratton coach Nick Dimitrievski, and although he relishes playing a more attacking role at times, he prefers to play out of his customary central midfield position.
"I played mainly defensive mid(field), but sometimes I like to push through midfield. My new school has been a good experience because it has better facilities, more experienced players, and the coaching staff is much better. It has helped me grow, and I have grown in confidence, as the coach has me playing a free role behind the strikers sometimes, and I enjoy that," he said.
"So I feel like I can try out for the MLS, and I am going to play PDL this summer, and that's the goal right now: to play PDL, get a few look-ins, and see where it goes from there. And if an MLS opportunity comes, I will take it. I believe I am capable of playing at a high level, so I would definitely take the opportunity if it comes my way," he stated.
Although his stock has grown considerably recently, Bedward, whose leadership ability and organisational skills are two of his main assets, has not lost sight of his overall development and wants to continue improving his game.
"My team look to me for organisation and leadership and my aerial ability, because I am a very big guy. They also rely on me to make important tackles, passes and power runs through the midfield, which has earned me the nickname 'Yaya TourÈ'. But I need to improve on my stamina and my left foot.
"Also, people have told me that I have a strong kick, and that I need to shoot more, but I tend to look for a pass. I know I have a good kick, and I am looking to improve on that," he said.
The former national under-17 and all-schools representative never really figured prominently in the national programme at the youth level, and is really working to make his mark with the senior team in the near future.
"I just need to get some more exposure over here so the national coaches get a chance to look at me again. It's been a while since they have seen me in action, but, hopefully, when they do again, they will see something that they want in the programme.
"But, so far, I am pleased with how things are moving forward. I can see greater things ahead. I have contacts, and my agent (Damani Ralph) is making arrangements, so I expect another good year," he said.