FEATURE | World Cup One to Watch: DeAndre Yedlin

The U.S. Men’s National team are looking to redeem themselves at the 2022 World Cup after missing out on the tournament completely in 2018. With the tournament approaching, many have questioned how so many young players will handle playing in a tournament that most of them have never been to. One player on the roster who has not only been to the World Cup but, with 75 caps, will most likely be the squad’s most experienced player is right-back DeAndre Yedlin.

Yedlin earned his call-up to the World Cup squad after returning to the MLS following a season with Galatasaray and DeAndre spoke to Get Football in Miami at an event organised by the Something2Play4 organization for youth players to hear firsthand how others have progressed from the youth ranks to the national team and beyond.

The Seattle native received his first youth national team camp invite at the age of 12. Since, Yedlin has progressed through every level of the US system and, not only played in the U.S. developmental academy system (the top youth division at the time), but has played at the college level too, the main outlet for American youth players. DeAndre has gone from the bright up-and-coming star of US Soccer to a veteran of the National Team. Speaking about his career during the Something2Play4 event, DeAndre recalled:

“I signed for the Seattle Sounders as the first homegrown player for the club. From there, it was a really quick ascent. I played the most minutes for the club that year. I ended up getting called up to the under-20s to play in the U20 World Cup. From there, Jurgen Klinsmann was the coach of the national team and he called me up for the January camp right before the 2014 World Cup. Honestly, I didn’t do well in that camp but, for some reason, Jurgen just had a belief in me and called me back for another camp and then the pre-World Cup camp. At that time, I thought he was just bringing me in to get me ready for the next cycle, but he ended up taking me to the World Cup in 2014.”

It was during this World Cup that the world started to take notice of the 20-year-old American starlet. In August 2014, Yedlin signed a four-year contract with Tottenham, which the player described as one of the most challenging periods of his life, saying:

“Tottenham was really difficult for me. It was the first time in my career I faced hardship. I got there and was not playing at all. [Kyle Walker] was the starting right-back at the time. I was just trying to absorb as much as I could, but I had been playing so much up until that point that, when I hit that wall, I didn’t know how to handle it. It was a different country, I was young and away from my family for the first time ever. The next season I went on loan to Sunderland where I had a pretty good season and ended up getting picked up by Newcastle under Rafael Benitez.”

Yedlin often discusses his mindset and mental preparation and has turned to meditation to help for big games, a practice his Inter Miami teammates have also adopted since DeAndre’s arrival. His focus on the mental side of the game shows his experience and his importance to the USA’s dressing room:

“The hardest thing for me wasn’t anything on the field. When I went over to Europe, it was about how to become accustomed off the field. When I went to England for the first time I was away from my family, I had to fend for myself and make new friends in a different culture. Back then, Americans didn’t often make a name for ourselves as they do now in Europe, so, as an American, you really had to prove yourself.”

“I think my greatest asset, a lot of people think it’s speed, but, for me, my greatest asset is just not giving up. That’s what I’ve literally built my career on. You will hear it when you go to England: ‘Oh, you’re American? You guys are beasts! You can’t kick the ball, but you can run for days.’ That’s literally what they think, so we kind of have that built in our DNA. I don’t care if someone is 60 yards ahead on a breakaway. I’m going to chase until you score or you miss. That’s my mindset. I’ve come across so many players that are incredibly skilled, but, mentally, there is something that’s not there.”

At 29, Yedlin is the USA’s most experienced player but right-back may be one of the team’s strongest positions in terms of depth. DeAndre faces heavy competition from the other options at manager Gregg Berhalter’s disposal, but the Miami player offers much more than experience. He has a lightning-quick first step and the pace to keep up with the world’s elite speedsters. A ‘pass-first’ full-back, Yedlin is technically sound in bringing the ball up the field and a player who looks to use fundamentals rather than endless runs up the line. However, in the final third, DeAndre also has the ability to cut in or overlap to create his own chances while looking for players in the box.

It will be a difficult choice to select the starting right-back for this World Cup but Yedlin is the best option off the ball. Combining that with his leadership and experience, Yedlin could be a crucial part of the USA game plan in Qatar.

GWFN | Tony DesRois

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