TUKWILA, Wash. — Few have ever doubted DeAndre Yedlin’s talent.
The Seattle Sounders starting right back was first identified as a prospect when he was just 10 or 11 years old by Darren Sawatzky, who now runs Sounders’ youth development system. Yedlin continued to show promise through high school and at the academy level before bursting onto the college scene by becoming a starter at national power Akron as a college freshman.
It was hardly a surprise when Seattle made Yedlin their first-ever Homegrown Player signing earlier this year.
Despite all that talent and promise, though, the plan was to bring the 19-year-old along slowly. The Sounders considered themselves MLS Cup contenders and having a rookie right back learn on the job didn’t seem to fit into those plans.
Yet 10 matches into the season – and the Sounders now 4-3-3 and every bit the Cup contenders they expected to be – Yedlin isn’t just playing, he’s thriving. He's started all nine matches in which he’s been eligible for selection and has made himself important enough that he was deemed more vital to the Sounders than to the US Under-20 team as it prepares for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“The thing with DeAndre is his skill and his energy,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “His youth, and as a result his endurance, allows him to be able to attack on that right side of the field. It gives us a little more attacking flare on that side. It gives whoever is on the right side the ability to tuck in a little bit more.
"That’s something that helps us, that helps us compact our midfield at certain times. It’s really his energy and ability to close people down has helped us so far defensively in key moments.”
Yedlin’s progress was given a kickstart around this time last year when he joined the Sounders U-23 team and was given more opportunities to train with the senior side. While he had previously played under pro coaches, and spent his college years at the closest thing the nation has to a soccer factory and even participated in a Sounders training session or two, the 16-match PDL season offered a new kind of bridge to the professional ranks.
Yedlin played every minute of the PDL season, making the transition to his sophomore season at Akron virtually seamless.
“You take a group of kids that are boys playing against boys, who then graduate and go to college,” said Sawatzky, who also coaches the Sounders U-23 team. “You have to have a place to play competitive games against men and against good competition until they turn professional. It becomes that intermediate piece.
“It’s such a great opportunity [for those] who aren’t quite ready for the pros yet to go to college and it gives them some months that test their mettle. It’s a very important piece.”
Yedlin admits that his rapid ascension has come as a bit of a surprise even to him, and that he’s not sure the player he was a year ago would recognize the player he’s become.
Once known almost entirely for what he brought to the attack, Yedlin has vastly improved his defending. That was never more apparent than his last game when Opta credited him with 10 interceptions and FC Dallas virtually abandoned his side of the field.
“I was a lot less mature a year ago than I am now,” Yedlin told MLSsoccer.com. “I credit that to the players I’m playing around and the coaches have helped me mature into the player I am today. I’m still maturing as the season goes.”
WATCH: Yedlin's golazo in CCL vs. Tigres
His willingness to learn and his commitment to constantly improving are the attributes most cited as keys to his improvement. As long his attitude remains the same, most seem to agree that he’s still just scratching the surface of his potential.
“His athletic ability is unbelievable,” Sounders midfielder Servando Carrasco said. “He can get up and down the wing like no one else can. Now that he’s reading the game a little more and he’s able to step on that play just from his understanding of the game and not just on his athletic ability, he is going to be in two years probably our starting back for the national team.
"He’s improved so much in the past three months. To imagine what he can be in one season ... this kid is going to be good.”