KANSAS CITY, Kan. – To get an up-close-and-personal look at DeAndre Yedlin's latest haircut is, for a generation older than his, a chance to imagine what it would be like to be young, creative and completely care free all over again.
But to watch the kid play soccer? That’s something different. There’s no point getting nostalgic about the wonders of youth when Yedlin plays, because there’s too much time spent salivating over the future.
When all 20 members of the MLS All-Star team gathered Tuesday for a training session ahead of their matchup Wednesday night against AS Roma (9 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMas in the US; TSN/RDS in Canada), it was, as expected, something of a MLS fraternity. The vast majority of the players have either played with each other on various MLS clubs, in previous incarnations of this summer showcase or somewhere along the line for their country’s national team.
But Yedlin? He stuck out not only because of his newest hairdo – two bleached blonde streaks wind along the tightly-cropped left side of his head, and he’s added some peroxide to his left eyebrow to complete the look – but also because he’s the newcomer here, and the one that other players are curious to see in the old boys’ network.
“I’ve played with most of these guys, but DeAndre … this is the first time I’ve seen him,” said Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler. “I want to get to know him, pick his brain a little. He’s very, very athletic and he’s an exciting player. He’s got a great future.”
Hand-picked by MLS Commissioner Don Garber earlier this month to make his All-Star debut, Yedlin is in the middle of a whirlwind rookie season few players have been able to match in recent years. He was something of an afterthought when he was named the Seattle Sounders’ first Homegrown signing in January – he was revealed during the SuperDraft, a day when rookies like Andrew Farrell and Carlos Alvarez stole the headlines – but he’s emerged as a staple on the Sounders’ back line and a serious contender for Rookie of the Year, if not the frontrunner.
He’s also the first rookie named to the All-Star team since 2005, dating back to Michael Parkhurst’s breakout season with the New England Revolution. Parkhurst was a late addition due to injury that year and only came on in the 84th minute in a 4-1 win over Fulham, but Yedlin is likely to see plenty more action Wednesday night when head coach Peter Vermes lines up his team.
Yedlin’s well aware of the fantastically surreal turns his life has taken in recent months. He stopped mid-sentence during a media scrum Tuesday, for example, internally processing the fact that Montreal Impact striker Marco Di Vaio had just sidled up next to him for his own interview and New York Red Bulls star Thierry Henry was wandering around steps away.
He gazed up at the façade of Sporting Park, looked down at the row of faces he’ll team with on Wednesday, and he smiled. Over and over again he soaked it in as best he could without letting the moment overwhelm him.
“I try to sit down and think about what’s happening as often as I can, because if you don’t, you can get caught up in everything,” he said. “I try to sit back and take this thing into reality, because it just doesn’t happen very often when things go so fast like this. There’s so much going on. But I’m trying to stay humble, and just keep on moving on with the season.”
That might be tough. After his somewhat impromptu call-in for the Under-20 World Cup earlier this year – he started all three games at right back for head coach Tab Ramos and drew solid reviews despite the Americans’ nose dive out of the group stage – he’s been christened in some circles as the future right back for the US national team, whether it be in 2018 or even via a shock call-up for Brazil next summer.
He’s also the toast of the town in Seattle, where he’s appeared in 16 games this season and scored one goal, an emphatic header against the Colorado Rapids on July 20 that was like a follow-up dunk on his own shot. He’s the only Sounders player on the All-Star roster this year – sorry Eddie Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso, heroes of this game in 2012 – and he’s got the official matchday play-by-play feed of the Sounders tweeting things like this: “So I’m on my way to KC to live-tweet every single thing
@yedlinny does at #MLSAllStar. This might get ridiculous...”
“I try not to read anything at all,” Yedlin said. “I know what I can do, I know what I bring. If it’s positive or negative, I just try to keep it out.”
It’s unclear if Yedlin will start on Wednesday – he played opposite what appeared to be Vermes’ starting lineup during a brief scrimmage Wednesday, trying to keep up with Henry and Di Vaio – but it doesn’t really matter. If he starts or comes off the bench it’s obvious that Yedlin has surged into a new stratosphere in just six short months, with the potential for even bigger leaps dead ahead.
And either by mousse or by might, he’s also become absolutely impossible to miss.
“I want to be unique,” Yedlin said, softly flicking the blonde curls on his head. “I want to stand out in the crowd, and I’m not trying to be someone who’s just like everyone else. I always try to stand out, and that’s who I’ve always been.”