For as long as Darren Sawatzky has known DeAndre Yedlin, he has known him as a playmaker who plays a step above his competition.
Even when the Sounders FC Director of Youth Development saw Yedlin seven years ago, he knew he was something special. Even still, he has seen a dramatic improvement in the carefree young player he saw then.
“I remember seeing DeAndre as an 11-year-old kid with a big afro just buzzing around and dominating play as a youth player,” Sawatzky said of the Sounders FC U18 defender. “He’s grown massively in the last few years.”
While he has blossomed into one of the top players in the region and has drawn the attention of the US U18 National Team and a scholarship to play with defending the NCAA Champions at the University of Akron, it is his personal growth that has impressed Sawatzky the most.
“The thing about him that you see is the maturity level,” he said. “His decision making is getting better on the field, but I like to see what happens off the field. He’s just becoming a young man. He’s a quiet leader, so he goes and he does things and kids follow him.”
Part of that maturity shined brightly when Mike Matkovich and Caleb Porter asked him to move from his most comfortable position as a midfielder to right back in the winter of 2009 when he was in his first camp with the US U18s.
Yedlin was accustomed to playing an offensive role, but put his faith in the coaches that they would put him in the best position to succeed at the highest level possible.
The move paid almost immediate dividends.
At that camp he found himself training with the “A” squad and even wound up in the starting 11. Then, a few weeks later, Porter reached out to Yedlin to begin the recruiting process.
While the transition may have appeared quick, Yedlin still finds himself adjusting a bit to the position. Fortunately, he had James Riley with the Sounders FC and Kofi Sarkodie with the University of Akron (and now the Houston Dynamo) to watch as examples of how to play the role.
“I didn’t know what to do at first, but seeing how Kofi played for Akron and playing with the Sounders I see that I can get forward and it has grown onto me,” he said.
The O’Dea High School senior is with the US U18s again this week at training camp in Portland, Oregon, where he is joined by two MLS players in Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jon Kempin and Chicago Fire midfielder Victor Pineda, along several more prospective professional players.
That surrounding is nothing new for Yedlin, though, who plays with several players of that ilk with the Sounders FC Academy. Whether it is Sean Okoli, Ryan Hermann, Aaron Kovar or one of the handful of other players with international experience who are bound for one of the big soccer schools around the country, there is plenty of talent to play with at the Sounders FC Academy.
However, they are also a tightly knit group that strives to achieve as much as a group as they do as individuals.
“We definitely have a very unique group. It’s hard to believe that we would lose any games, but it happens,” Yedlin laughed. “We all want the best for each other and we know that we will all probably go far with soccer, so we try not to make it a competition and just get behind each other and push each other to be our best.”
Yedlin will rejoin the Sounders Academy after he finishes his senior season at O’Dea, then plans to play in Europe for the second straight summer, touring countries like Belgium, Austria and Germany to gain experience against some tough competition.
Then he will go to Akron, where he has giant shoes to fill with the departure of Sarkodie, one of five Akron players to be selected in the first eight picks of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Yedlin is ready for that challenge, though.
“It’s obviously going to be hard stepping in as a freshman, but I think I can do it. With Coach Porter coaching me and the development I’ll get from him, I think I I’ll be able to do it,” he said. “I’m excited about that.”
The US U18s will play against the University of Washington and the University of Portland in a pair of friendlies on Saturday. The Sounders FC Academy will take the field again on May 28 against the California Development Academy at Starfire.