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The American Pirlo? Jackson Yueill aims to take next step with US men's national team

CARSON, Calif. — Jackson Yueill made an immediate and most favorable impression with the US men’s national team last year, seems like a perfect fit for Gregg Berhalter's system, and looks to get his chance this year to become a vital figure in 2020.

The 22-year-old San Jose Earthquakes midfielder is a calming presence on the pitch, a playmaker with vision and the ability to connect over distance, and a maturing presence whose performances for the US — particularly in the September friendly with Uruguay and November's second Concacaf Nations League clash with Canada — suggest he could be the chief man in the middle going forward.

Berhalter's system is designed for possession, and Yueill provides something different as a regista — a deep-lying playmaker, sort of an attacking No. 6 — capable of modulating the pace and momentum of a game.

Might he be the Americans' Andrea Pirlo? The thought of it makes him laugh.

“I don't know that I can compare myself to him,” he said. “But try my best.”

Yueill, who hopes to be on the field Saturday (3:55 pm ET | ESPNews, UniMás, TUDN) for an international friendly against Costa Rica at Dignity Health Sports Park burst out last year for Quakes after showing promise in his first two seasons.

Argentine coach Matias Almeyda, like Berhalter, has a specific notion of how his team should play, and the Bloomington, Minnesota product fits neatly into that frame.

“I like it a lot, because you get on the ball a lot, you get to see the whole field, just kind of pick out your passes,” Yueill told MLSsoccer.com before Thursday morning's USMNT training session. “I think, for myself, hitting some of those longer-range balls and finding gaps to our attacking midfielders and our forwards in behind is crucial to how we play. It's been a lot of fun in that role, and having that duty to do.”

The role with the U.S. team isn't all that different from his role with San Jose, although the Quakes play a more frenetic, high-pressing style.

Jackson Yueill has had early positive returns in his appearances with the USMNT | USA Today Sports Images

“It's getting it from the back and kind of moving it up to the front, you know?” he said. “Breaking lines, starting the attack.”

Michael Bradley's absence the first part of the year — the Toronto FC star is out for four months following ankle surgery — offers the opportunity for Yueill to better cement his spot, although it's likely he'll miss the March friendlies against the Netherlands and Wales. Berhalter on Monday said Yueill would be a key player during Concacaf Olympic qualifiers, which will be played March 20-April 1 in Mexico.

The Nations League final four and, hopefully, the Tokyo Olympics will follow, and then 2022 World Cup qualifying begins in September.

Berhalter likes the growth he's seen in Yueill and wants to see more.

“The way we see it is he has very good potential,” Berhalter said. “I really like how the coach in San Jose, Almeyda, has worked with him to get him very aggressive on the defensive end. We know he has quality offensively, and now it's about showing the grit and determination defensively.”

Yueill, who won his first cap last June against Jamaica and has a half-dozen in all, certainly feels snug in Berhalter's system. He looked at home from the start.

“Coming in last year, basically learning it and getting more and more comfortable,” he said, “I feel very comfortable now with the coaching staff, the players, and how we play and how we do. [I felt good last year with] help from a lot of older guys in the team, a lot of guys who have been here awhile helped me a lot, and the coaching staff made it real easy for me.”

It's still early in the process, and he needs to show that he can be consistent and that his play can rise in the most important encounters.

“Now for him, it's going to be about can he play at another speed,” Berhalter said. “It's always going to be a question: Friendly games are one thing; I think international qualifying games, international games, the speed is different. For him, it's being able to play at that speed.

“We're confident he will be able to do so.”