Matias Almeyda's influence is producing a more well-rounded Jackson Yueill

HANOVER, N.J. — Jackson Yueill is never going to be mistaken for Tyler Adams or Diego Chara, players who have earned a living against the ball. 

He’s the technician, the one who loves to make plays and dish out assists. The San Jose Earthquakes midfielder is considerably more comfortable on the ball than off it. 

And while he admits it hasn’t been easy to progress through the pro club and international ranks as that player, this season Yueill has been taken out of his comfort zone this year by Quakes manager Matias Almeyda.

Winning duels is a prerequisite to playing for the Argentine coach, who also was that ball-winner, hard-tackler during his playing career. And honing that side of his game may ultimately be the best thing for Yueill at this moment in time.

“It’s really been awesome. He's given me a lot of liberties, but he expects a lot in return for those freedoms that I have with the ball,” Yueill told Thursday while on assisgnment with the US men's national team ahead of Friday’s international friendly against Mexico (8:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision). “The way we play, it's definitely had to change my game, I couldn't really just walk and jog about on defense. It requires all 11 guys on the field to be focused without the ball.”

Those harsh lessons in preseason and the first month of the MLS season have paid major dividends for the 22-year-old, third-year pro. Yueill has become an irreplaceable cog in the Quakes midfield with 24 starts in 27 appearances — both career highs. 

But oh, those rough preseason days. 

“He was really getting after me hard,” Yueill said of Almeyda. “But I’m training really well and I kind of see the results now. It really shows game in and game out how I can defend against better opponents.”

Yueill is mature enough to realize there’s not many one-dimensional midfielders in the modern game. Defending is no longer optional. 

“I think you're seeing in the whole world now, at every level, you have to be a well-rounded player, You can't just be a good offensive player or a good defensive player, you have to be able to do everything,” he said “I think adding that component in into my game really, really helped me jump another level this year.”

He’s earned praise from Almeyda, who in May said he could see Europe in Yueill’s future. And on Thursday, USMNT coach Gregg Berhlater lauded Yueill as an example of someone who has taken to the coaching they’ve received and vastly improved. 

“We like Jackson, we’ve always liked him,” Berhalter said. “What we’re seeing now is because of the way they play, he's forced to have this different level of tenacity, aggression. And that's what you always want from Jackson, you want this to come out. 

“We understand he’s a very technical player and now you want to see part of the other side. It’s not to say he’s going to turn into an aggressive, ball-winner only type of player, but it’s rounding out the skillset very nicely.”

Yueill remains focused on finishing the MLS season strong as the Quakes look to lock up a berth in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. But he also appreciates the praise, especially coming from the USMNT coach who doesn’t see him daily.

“Hearing those words is awesome,” Yueill said. “Getting good encouragement keeps me motivated to know that even though he's not there in our trainings every day, he's still watching and giving his feedback on what he thinks I can improve on and in different scenarios.”