Ira Yedlin was sitting in a coffee shop in Bisbee, Arizona, when his phone buzzed with two words in a text message.
At the sight of those two words, "He's going," the retiree from Seattle jumped for joy and shouted for the whole city to hear. And while his enthusiasm was greeted with some confusion in the small town near the Mexican border, it didn't bother Yedlin. His grandson was going to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
"I woke up the next morning and wondered if it was just a dream," Yedlin said.
And while going to the World Cup is something that DeAndre Yedlin and his family have been dreaming about since he took up soccer at four years old, this was no dream at all. At just 20 years old, DeAndre Yedlin made the 23-man roster under Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and when the whole world tuned in to the World Cup, he would be right there in the thick of all the action. On the field. At the World Cup.
And his grandparents will be there too.
Ira Yedlin and Vicki Walton have been traveling with DeAndre just about everywhere he has played. In Akron for college? Yes. To Turkey for the U-20 World Cup? Wouldn't miss it. To Carson, Calif. for his first cap with the U.S. National Team? And Glendale, Arizona, for the second? Of course.
So it was without question that once they learned that he was going to Brazil, they would be there too for every step along the way.
What followed was a whirlwind to get from Arizona to California for the first game in the Send-off Series, and to get the proper paperwork to make the trip to Brazil. Then they followed the U.S. National Team throughout the Send-off Series in New Jersey and Florida. Now they are back in Arizona, but will soon be Brazil-bound themselves to catch the first match against Ghana on June 16 in Natal.
"For us, it's been absolutely insane and it's a really good thing that we're older and retired. With all the traveling and the plans, it would be virtually impossible to do if we were younger and had to work," Ira Yedlin said.
"You look at each other 20 times a day and say 'Wow'," Walton said. "We just keep shaking our heads over the last year and a half. We didn't think we were going to go even if he made the team, but once we found out he was on the team, we HAD to go. It's the World Cup!"
In the back of their minds, Yedlin and Walton knew their "kid" might one day reach these heights. So did DeAndre's uncle and closest friend, Dylan Walton-Yedlin.
Although 10 years separate them, they grew up as brothers in arms, inseparable all along. When Dylan would go to a friend's house to play video games or sports, DeAndre would come too. Now, though the country separates them while Dylan works in finance in the Boston area, they remain as close as ever.
And while he has been among his greatest supporters, even Dylan is surprised by DeAndre's rapid rise to stardom.
"I can't even put into words what this is like. When he was a little kid we hoped he would get a Division I scholarship. And then that happened. Then we hoped he could play pro someday. And then that happened," he laughed. "18 months ago we were watching him play in Akron, Ohio. It's such a weird transition. We never had any clue that it would turn out like this."
Walton-Yedlin not only supported his nephew while he rose through the ranks in the soccer world, but was a key influence in his sporting ventures. He wanted DeAndre to play football, so during his freshman year at O'Dea High School he turned out for the team. And while he was fast, his barely-100-pound frame wasn't enough to compete on the gridiron.
"When he tucked his jersey in his pants, half the number was below the waistline of the pants," Ira Yedlin chuckled. "He was just so little."
Naturally, as he continued playing soccer and over the next few years, he made some crucial decisions that shaped him. First, he left Crossfire to play for the Sounders FC Academy just before his senior year of high school. It was a difficult decision, but one that he felt was necessary to help him reach his goals. Next was the decision to go across the country to the University of Akron. Finally, he left college after just two seasons to be the first Homegrown player to sign with Sounders FC.
None of those decisions came without giving up something important to him. But they were all geared toward his ultimate goal – to be the best soccer player he could be. And while many parents may lament their kid's decision to leave college early, Walton and Yedlin were fully supportive.
"What he wanted to do was play soccer, and at that point we thought he was good enough to do that and he could do college when he was done," Walton said. "We weren't upset that he was leaving college. Everything he had done to that point was a tough decision, but was always done with that in mind."
Now, through all the different hairstyles and jerseys that he has worn, through the different coaches and teammates, as well as fans that supported and doubted him, DeAndre Yedlin is suiting up with the U.S. National Team at the World Cup.
He has done plenty to make his family proud. Earning a college scholarship. Signing a professional contract. Becoming an MLS All-Star and a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year. Playing at the U-20 World Cup and earning a spot with the U.S. National Team.
None come close to touching what makes them smile most though.
"The thing we are most proud of is that he has remained true to himself," Walton said. "He is still the same person he's always been."