DeAndre Yedlin’s rise to success in his rookie season with Sounders FC sounds like a fairy tale.
And to hear him tell the story makes it sound even more majestic.
The Seattle native became the club’s first Homegrown Player when he signed in January and earned the starting role in preseason, eventually earning All-Star honors, starting more games than any other Sounder and on Wednesday was announced as a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year.
“I thought it would take a good half of the year to learn. I wasn’t expecting to come in and start right away,” Yedlin said. “It just shows that if you believe in yourself anything can happen. An opportunity arose and it worked out for the best.”
Locally, Yedlin was a known commodity from a young age, drawing the attention of Sounders FC Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky years before Yedlin played in the first Sounders FC Academy team in 2010. Soon, he became well-known in the college circuit as well, playing two standout seasons for the University of Akron before jumping to the professional ranks this year.
He quickly drew attention at the MLS SuperDraft for his hairstyle, but his intention wasn’t to draw attention to himself. Later he would explain that if there was any message to be sent by his highly stylized hair, it is that it is ok to be unique.
“I want to play good soccer, I want to impress people. At the end of the day, people will remember you for how good of a soccer player you are, but more for what you did to help in the world,” he said. “The main message I want to send, especially to kids, is to be yourself. As kids get older and older you start to realize it more and that’s the message I’m trying to send.”
That message became more prominent as the year wore on.
In June, he was invited to play with the U.S. U-20 National Team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, showing that he could play with the best young players in the world.
That brought even more attention and eventually he became not only the face of the Homegrown Player initiative in Seattle, but also of the team as a whole – as adidas used the starlet in its branding of the new adidas Originals MLS Capsule Collection, joining Omar Gonzalez with the LA Galaxy and Darlington Nagbe with the Portland Timbers.
As his star became brighter, skeptics disappeared.
Even while more people started noticing the kid from O’Dea High School that was making waves in Seattle and accolades were pouring in, it didn’t affect Yedlin’s approach or outlook.
“I honestly didn’t really notice it. I just try to play my game and if stuff like that comes on the side, then great. I think I’d feel the same pressure if I wasn’t getting the attention,” Yedlin said, crediting the Sounders FC technical staff for easing his first-year transition. “Their belief and their trust in me was huge for my confidence.”
In a season filled with highlights, Yedlin’s fondest memory came off the field.
It wasn’t his first professional goal – a screamer against Tigres that started Seattle to a comeback win in CONCACAF Champions League. It wasn’t his All-Star or U-20 World Cup appearances. It wasn’t his brilliant exhibition in the second half of a playoff battle with the Timbers when he had a goal and an assist. Or any number of standout defensive performances he had throughout the year.
For Yedlin, the best memory is of looking to the stands and seeing his family beaming with pride after each match.
“I think the highlight for me was just seeing how proud my family was,” he smiled. “They’ve always been proud of me, but I hadn’t seen it expressed the way it was this year.”
Perhaps his family now has more people around them echoing that pride. While Yedlin frequently uses the hashtag #Seattlelove on Twitter to convey his hometown pride, the fans in the city use the same message to show their pride in his story.
2013 Major League Soccer Awards Finalists
AT&T Rookie of the Year Finalists (Nov. 25)
Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids)
Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids)
DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists (Nov. 25)
Jalil Anibaba (Chicago Fire)
Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists (Nov. 25)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Defender of the Year Finalists (Nov. 26)
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution)
Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
MLS W.O.R.K.S Humanitarian of the Year Finalists (Nov. 26)
Jeb Brovsky (Montreal Impact)
Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United)
Matt Reis (New England Revolution)
Referee of the Year Finalists (Nov. 26)
Assistant Referee of the Year Finalists (Nov. 26)
Coach of the Year Finalists (Dec. 2)
Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake)
Mike Petke (New York Red Bulls)
Caleb Porter (Portland Timbers)
Comeback Player of the Year Finalists (Dec. 2)
Kevin Alston (New England Revolution)
Conor Casey (Philadelphia Union)
Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders FC)
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists (Dec. 4)
Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Newcomer of the Year Finalists (Dec. 4)
Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution)
Nigel Reo-Coker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Finalists (Dec. 5)
Marco DiVaio (Montreal Impact)
Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)
MLS Best XI (Dec. 3)
AT&T MLS Goal of the Year (Dec. 5)
MLS Save of the Year (Dec. 5)