“Always Remember The Beginning.”
That is the inscription DeAndre Yedlin had tattooed on his calves this offseason. It is a mantra he has lived by his whole life but has become even more prominent over the last year as he has rocketed into the soccer consciousness both with the U.S. National Team and with Sounders FC.
After entering Saturday’s 2-0 friendly win over South Korea in the 74th minute for his first cap, greeted by a hearty cheer from the sellout crowd and a beaming grin from the man he was replacing, Sounders FC teammate Brad Evans, the beginning is becoming evermore unforgettable for the 20-year-old Seattle native.
“I’ve always been raised to stay humble. No matter where you are in life, every road you take will lead back to where you started,” Yedlin said.
For the Sounders, that start was an incredible first season in Rave Green in 2013. He started in 30 matches, leading the team in minutes while earning a spot on the MLS All-Star team, becoming the first rookie named to the team since Michael Parkhurst in 2005.
Seattle’s first Homegrown Player signing, Yedlin scored a stunning goal against Tigres in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League to start Sounders FC on the comeback trail that earned Seattle the first victory for an MLS club over a Mexican opponent in the knockout round of the CCL and a berth in the semifinal. He also would add a goal and an assist in the playoffs and was a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award. That, in addition to earning a call to the U.S. U-20 National Team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he started in all three matches.
His first invitation to U.S. National Team camp heaped even more into his already overflowing cup of accomplishments.
He spent the month training under Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann alongside a team made up mostly of MLS veterans and a few other young players, like Shane O’Neill and Chris Klute from the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil.
That balance helped Yedlin stay comfortable, yet motivated, as he worked through the grueling training camp that started and ended in California with a 12-day trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the middle. His most steadying presence was Evans, who is also the player whose position he is targeting.
“I think it’s good that I’ve been going at it with Brad. I don’t think there’s another person that I’d rather compete with,” Yedlin said. “He’s definitely been a big mentor to me. He wants the best for me, but still wants to do well, himself, so it makes for healthy competition and it makes it fun. It’s also incredibly challenging because he’s a great player.”
In camp, Yedlin improved his fitness and put on four pounds of muscle. He learned from veteran players who had been through U.S. camps before and gladly helped him along the way. And he learned what to expect from Klinsmann in the national team setting.
“I learned a lot about what Klinsmann is going to be like. I think it’s important for any player to get a feel for the coach,” Yedlin said. “You really had to push yourself. It’s a good feeling to know that I was able to push myself through those sessions, those two-a-days and the fitness sessions. It’s a big confidence boost.”
Klinsmann has high expectations for Yedlin too, and the development of young players like Yedlin and Gil, who both made their debuts against South Korea, is vital to the success of the team.
“This is just the beginning of a very good career, and we need them to push the envelope with their MLS teams, we need them to understand there’s more responsibility on their shoulders as a senior National Team player,” Klinsmann said. “We need them to understand that they need to work far more than anybody else on their club teams because they are National Team players. We want to see that process now taking place and we will communicate with their club coaches. It’s up to them now how well and how fast they develop over the next couple of years.”
To many, that sort of pressure might be a burden, but Yedlin sees it as an inspiration to climb even higher and his résumé shows that he can handle those responsibilities when they land on his shoulders.
“Some people might call it pressure, but I think it’s fun. It motivates me and I think it will push my game to another level,” he said. “I love a challenge. Right now, am I the best person for that spot? To be honest, I don’t think so. But I’m going to keep pushing until the day that I am the person for that spot and I can say I’m starting for the national team.”
Yedlin rejoined Sounders FC in Arizona on Wednesday evening and trained on Thursday. He is expected to play in at least one of the final two matches in Arizona on Saturday against the Portland Timbers and Sunday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
The player on the field will be a newly-motivated one looking to build on a tremendous first year with the club, but if he catches himself staring off into the distance with a smile on his face, it should be understandable. While he is not one to revel in his own success, remarkable memories like his first U.S. National Team cap are the type of moments that can cause a player to daydream.
“The experience was … man … it was almost overwhelming. I’ll never forget it,” he beamed. “It was a special moment.”