By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Seattle Sounders rookie DeAndre Yedlin somehow manages to sound modest even when saying he won’t be satisfied until he is the best soccer player in the world.
There seems far more sense of responsibility than cockiness when the 20-year-old defender raises the possibility.
“For me, I haven’t technically made it until I’m the best player in the world,” Yedlin said. “Obviously I still have a long, long way to go. There’s still a ton that I have to work on, and I know that I’m nowhere near where I eventually want to be. I’ve just got to keep pushing, stay humble, the rest will come. If someday I do become the best player in the world, then I’m going to be the exact same person: stay humble and stay grounded, and just keep going.”
It’s easy to understand why Yedlin would put no limits on what he might yet accomplish in soccer, given how much he has accomplished already this year.
In January, he became Seattle’s first homegrown player, and today he will be the club’s lone representative as the Major League Soccer All-Stars meet AS Roma at 6 p.m. at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. Yedlin will play alongside MLS legends such as Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry, and across from one of the world’s great clubs.
“That’s a pretty big honor. I’m excited,” Yedlin said on the day of his selection. “(Seattle coach Sigi Schmid) just had a talk with me and told me congratulations. It’s kind of an amazing feeling to be honest. ? To be in my first year here and to be that highly thought of, it’s great.”
Other highlights of Yedlin’s first professional season:
w On March 2, he became the youngest Sounder to play complete game. That came in the season opener vs. Montreal, and he was named to the MLS team of the week.
w On March 12, he became the youngest Sounder to score a goal, sending in a long-range volley against Tigres of Mexico in CONCACAF Champions League.
w On March 30 at Real Salt Lake, he became the youngest Sounder to record an assist.
w From June 21-27, he started all three group-stage matches for the United States in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
w On July 20 against Colorado, he became the youngest Sounder to score an MLS goal. That rebounded header went on to be voted MLS goal of the week.
All of that — capped with the All-Star honor — might be a lot for someone so young to handle. However, Schmid has repeatedly said he believes Yedlin is able to deal with success; even this much, this early.
“I think he has a good head on his shoulders,” Schmid said. “He’ll keep himself in check.”
That’s one of the reasons the club selected him as its first homegrown player (an official MLS designation for players allowed to move directly from a club’s academy system to that club’s first team without going through the normal SuperDraft process).
“I’ve always been that kind of person, try to keep myself balanced with all the awards and honors that I get,” he said. “I think it’s important that I do that. You gain the respect of other people. You gain the respect of other players. That’s huge.”
It might also help that he is used to success, receiving national honors in soccer as early as age 12 and in track even before that. By the time he left O’Dea High School, he was ranked as the nation’s No. 7 recruit by Top Drawer Soccer and 12th by College Soccer News.
He went on to play at Akron, under coach Caleb Porter, who is now in his first season leading the Portland Timbers.
“I coached him for two years and thought he was one of the top right backs in the country: very talented, athletic,” Porter said. “I knew he would do well. I’m not sure I necessarily expected him to be doing quite as well as he’s doing. For a young player to step in and be starting and having the impact that he’s having, I think is pretty impressive, and it says a lot about the talent that young man has.”
It may also say a lot that the older Sounders — meaning all of them — have been publicly supportive of Yedlin’s success.
The club has a history of MLS All-Stars, from Kasey Keller (2009-2011) to Fredy Montero (2009, 2010, 2012) to Fredy Ljungberg (2009-2010). Last season, Osvaldo Alonso and Eddie Johnson represented the club.
However, this season it is only Yedlin — appointed among the two picks allotted directly to commissioner Don Garber.
“Everybody on this team is happy for you, everybody on this team supports you and everything that you do,” Yedlin said. “They’re all happy for me and all wish me the best. It’s something that I really appreciate, because it can be awkward at times on other teams, but not on this team.”