When every new coach enters a club, they quickly develop a favorite player or two. It’s only human nature to be drawn to those whose playing style or training-ground habits resonate with the system you’re trying to implement.
For San Jose Earthquakes coach Matias Almeyda, one of those magnetic draws is to US U-23 national midfielder Jackson Yueill. The third-year pro has quickly found a role in Almeyda’s midfield, starting seven of 10 games.
"I think he's one of the players with the brightest futures in this league, especially being born the United States,” Almeyda said of the former UCLA standout, drafted No. 6 overall in the 2017 SuperDraft. “I like his personality a lot. In terms of soccer, he is very complete, and I see a big European future for him.
“He's a player that trains very well, and when he plays in games, he plays the same way he trains. He plays well in training sessions, friendly matches, and in easy and difficult matches. He always plays with the same effort, and it shows that he is a national team player."
They’re lofty words of praise from a manager who’s previously led Argentine powerhouse River Plate, as well as Liga MX powerhouse Chivas de Guadalajara. Almeyda also has 35 caps for the Argentine national team, which all goes to say he knows talent when he sees it.
Yueill, who scored his first career goal in an April 13 loss at Houston Dynamo, has stepped seamlessly into the man-marking system. Yet there’s room to grow.
"We do a lot of reversible drills, and I always say that I want to be a coach that makes a player more complete,” Almeyda said. “That's the job I think coaches have. Players get to the first division because they play well, not because they know everything, so there is still a large margin for him to improve on. In his case, he is taking advantage of that. He's a player that is recovering a lot of balls, he is very dynamic, he has a good shot, and you'll see why I play him, I like him."
Yueill, ahead of San Jose’s home matchup Saturday vs. the Chicago Fire (3 pm ET | Univision, Twitter — Full TV & streaming info), said he’s adjusting to the tactical and physical demands of Almeyda's pressing system. With that increased role comes lofty expectations and responsibilities.
“You really have to be able to go box-to-box, and then win your 1-on-1s, your duels,” Yueill said. “So the coaches really emphasized being able to do that. It took a while, obviously, but I think this year I’ve been doing a different job in the gym and on the training pitch to be able to do it on Saturdays."