DeAndre Yedlin was the first player Sounders FC signed as a Homegrown Player and if he has his way, there will be plenty more to follow.
Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli have already joined Yedlin with Sounders FC and with Academy alums plying their trade at colleges around the country, 12 more players from Seattle’s Academy system made their college commitments last week, taking them on the next step along the path to the first team.
“I want to see as many Homegrowns on this team as possible,” Yedlin said. “It really shows the talent that we have here in Seattle and that talent that’s coming is great. So it’s great to see them.”
Yedlin used his first taste of professional soccer to spring him to new heights. He was the first rookie named to the MLS All-Star team since 2005. He led Sounders FC in starts and minutes played. And he earned international accolades, playing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in June, then getting invited to U.S. National Team’s January camp where he earned his first cap in a friendly against South Korea.
Kovar and Okoli are likely to take a different route to first team minutes, but it’s not at all a commentary on their talents and abilities.
“For Sean and Aaron, it’s a little more difficult because there are players in that position that aren’t necessarily going to go away in the near term,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’ll probably need to battle through a little bit more than DeAndre had to last year.”
With Marco Pappa manning the left wing and a bevy of talent at forward, the path to first team minutes won’t be quite as speedy for Kovar and Okoli as it was for Yedlin, who benefitted from a training camp injury to incumbent right back Adam Johansson that earned him playing time with the top group.
Early in training camp, Okoli has climbed his way into the coaching staff’s consciousness even while competing with longtime MLS veterans. Kovar, meanwhile, has needed to shift to a new position because of a shortage of left backs.
“Sean, athletically has shown the qualities he has,” Schmid said. “Kovar is the kind of player who has a great engine. We’ve had to play him at left back a little bit because of manpower needs and he’s done OK playing back there. Getting on the field helps you. The more you can get on the field, the more you can play, the better it is.”
While out of position, Kovar has been able to learn in the process, enhancing his defensive awareness while still providing the occasional magic with his left-footed crosses.
“When you’re higher up the field, you can get away with a lot more. Learning that low-risk part of the field has been good for me and it’s been helpful talking to Brad (Evans) and DeAndre and picking up little tips along the way,” Kovar said. “I think it will help in the long run, but at this point if left back is where I get on the field, I’ll play left back.”
Although their experiences are penciling out to be much different than their predecessor, Okoli and Kovar still have plenty that they can learn from Yedlin’s first season and even more that Yedlin can teach them along the way in their first professional seasons.
First and foremost on that list is that everything that has come to Yedlin has come through hard work.
“You’ve got to come and you’ve got to work every day. DeAndre knew that he had to come in and work every day even though he had a unique situation in a position that he ended up being able to take over. He knew that if he didn’t work, he would lose that spot,” Schmid said. “He had to be prepared to play every day.”
High character players in their own right, Kovar and Okoli are both equipped to meet that challenge and hope to one day achieve what Yedlin has already accomplished in his young career.