USA Today

Keller reflects on impressive rise of defender Yedlin following USMNT January camp

There is a very short list of U.S. National Team players that have reached the 100 cap plateau in their international careers. The list is far longer of those that made just one appearance for the Stars and Stripes.

DeAndre Yedlin is not incredibly likely to be included in the second group, but after getting his first cap in a 16-minute substitute appearance in a 2-0 win over South Korea on February 1, the 20-year-old Sounders FC defender celebrated the start to his international career.

And while subbing into the match in the 74th minute was a momentous occasion for Yedlin, one member of the 100-cap club reminded him that he still has a long way to go to reach the level he hopes to attain.

“The best advice I think you can give to a lot of these kids is that it’s really not a big deal. It’s great and enjoy it for what it is, but you had one cap in a friendly that didn’t really matter for 20 minutes,” Sounders FC broadcast analyst Kasey Keller said.

The former Seattle captain had 101 appearances for the U.S., but is hardly trying to throw cold water on Yedlin’s feat as much as he wants to ensure that Yedlin can reach his full potential and represent both Sounders FC and the city of Seattle on the big stage.

“The thought process is how do you turn that into a 10-12 year career with the national team where you’re a starter for multiple World Cups and trying to get in the 100 cap club. First and foremost, you do that by being the best player at your club team every day. You do that in your preparation for practice. You do that in practice. There’s no days off,” said Keller, whose 19 professional seasons saw him play in England, Spain and Germany before finishing his career in MLS. “If you want to be the best player, you don’t do it by coasting one day. You put your mark on every time you step on the field and you prove to everybody that not only am I the best right back, but I’m the best player at this club. Then you combine that with being a great teammate and a great pro.”

Yedlin will benefit from being surrounded by U.S. National Team members Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans, as well as Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore and Obafemi Martins, who have spent years with clubs in Europe and know what it takes to maintain that top level of performance.

Coupled with the instruction he gets from his Sounders FC and U.S. National Team coaches, Yedlin has a lot of resources at his disposal. Just how he implements those resources is up to Yedlin himself.

“I think it helps that there are guys that have been in situations in big clubs and big environments, but you can only help so much. Players have to figure out what works best for them,” Keller said. “You can give people tools, but they have to be able to accept the responsibility and the discipline that goes along with that. Pro sports is littered with potential. How many actually meet that potential is a whole different ball game.”

MLS has taken massive strides in recent years and, while competition may be greater in top European leagues, it’s not an intrinsic requirement that top players go to those European giants to help them reach their potential.

Players like Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez have shown that MLS can be the right platform to build a career. Yedlin can do the same with Sounders FC, but will eventually be faced with a crossroads – to stay in Seattle and continue to build his hometown club and the league or pursue the benefits that can come from opportunities abroad.

“Do you use the Sounders as a stepping stone to Europe or are you going to be the best right back in MLS from day one and that’s what you’re happy with? Omar Gonzalez has done that, won a couple championships, broke his way into being a starter with the national team and got a new contract with the Galaxy. You have to look at what’s best for you,” Keller said. “But really the key is you have to continually push yourself to get better.”

Keller was goalkeeper coach for the majority of the most recent January camp for the U.S. National Team and got an up-close look at the progress of Yedlin and Evans, who started at right back under Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann against South Korea. It was his second stint coaching the National Team.