Yedlin proves he can play with the big boys

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:48pm
  • SportsSports

SEATTLE — After making his Sounders debut, rookie DeAndre Yedlin looked very much like the 19-year-old that he is.

If his youthful face didn’t give him away, then that wild hairdo that only a teenager could think is a good idea certainly did. Then there was Yedlin standing still while teammate Josh Ford tied a bowtie for him so Yedlin could look dapper in front of the TV cameras waiting outside the Sounders locker room.

But for 90 minutes on the field, Yedlin looked nothing like a 19-year-old playing his first professional game, and in front of a hometown crowd no less. In an otherwise disappointing 1-0 loss to Montreal, Yedlin provided the silver lining in Seattle’s season opener.

Yedlin, who is from Shoreline and attended O’Dea High School, was signed by Seattle this offseason as the franchise’s first homegrown player — Major League Soccer rules allow teams to sign players out of their own academies without having them go through the draft. And leading up to January’s MLS SuperDraft, Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson noted that the team felt like it had already added a top-flight talent regardless of what happened in the draft.

“For me, DeAndre would have been probably a top-three pick in the draft,” Henderson said.

And based off of Saturday’s game, that apparently wasn’t hyperbole. Granted one game is far too small a sample size to make any final judgments on a player. But the season opener did hint at a very promising future for Yedlin, who became the second-youngest Sounder to start an MLS game behind Miguel Montano in 2010.

“I thought he played well,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “For a young man making his debut at home there could have been a lot of pressure. He could have not handled that well, but I thought he handled it well, I thought he played well, I thought he had a good game.”

Yedlin was starting in his first professional game because Seattle’s regular starting right back, Adam Johansson, is battling a knee injury. And while Yedlin figures to see less playing time once Johansson gets back, he showed against Montreal that the Sounders have talent and depth at that position. Yedlin showed his speed while pushing forward to help Seattle’s attack. He showed he could recover and win balls back for his team even after pushing forward. And he was fearless taking on veteran players in one-on-one situations, never more so than in the second half when his hard — but clean — tackle just outside of the box stopped impact forward Marco Di Vaio from having a free run at goal.

“He did well,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who like Yedlin played at Akron. “He’s a very confident player. He’s one of those guys who just plays football. He’s fun, he’s fearless; when you’re at that age, you just want to play and have fun, and he’s in front of his friends and family, it’s his home town. He did well, I’m very proud of him, very happy for him. He’s only going to get better with more experience and more confidence. It’s a very, very good debut. He’s really young, so it was fantastic.”

Yedlin first got an inkling that he might start the season opener early in the week when he was working with the starters in practice, then Schmid gave him the good news Friday. Despite playing in front of nearly 40,000 fans, a group that included friends and family, Yedlin said he was able to find a balance between being nervous and excited.

“I think it was a combination of both, it was a good balance,” he said. “I try to get that balance. … It was good. Obviously a loss is never the result you want, but it’s good to get a game under my belt and see what it’s like to play with the first team and get a start. It was definitely good for my experience.”

The good news for Yedlin is that he showed on Saturday that he can hang with the big boys. The bad news? He still has work to do on that bowtie.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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