From Seattle to Rio: DeAndre Yedlin's rise through the ranks of U.S. Soccer - Part I

DeAndre Yedlin

In 1966, Pat Raney watched England beat West Germany in the FIFA World Cup final on a screen at the Seattle Center Arena. Surrounded by mostly European expats who got a taste of their home countries by watching the World Cup together, Raney felt like he was in unfamiliar territory in his hometown.

Now, the retired O'Dea High School soccer coach will have a different perspective watching the World Cup when he watches O'Dea alum and Seattle native DeAndre Yedlin wearing the U.S. National Team jersey in Brazil.

"It's amazing to have a student this early at this level. We've had pro football players, baseball players, basketball players … but they didn't do it a couple years out of high school. This is pretty special," said Raney, who still teaches science at O'Dea.

Yedlin rose through the ranks with the Sounders FC Academy, Sounders FC U-23s and finally with the first team when he became the first Seattle player signed as a Homegrown player prior to the 2013 season. Now, he is the first MLS Homegrown Player to be named to the U.S. World Cup squad.

Raney is like many people in Seattle with a strong connection to Yedlin that will be watching closely, hoping to see the 20-year-old Sounders FC defender take the field on the world's stage. However, he is also among a select few that had a chance to coach Yedlin before he was an MLS All-Star.

Sean Henderson is also in that group.

The Sounders FC Academy coach worked with Yedlin throughout his youth with Crossfire and later with the Sounders FC Academy in its inaugural season. Henderson can remember distinctly his first impression of Yedlin as an 11-year-old playing for a rival club.

"He was noticeable immediately. He was really powerful and fast," Henderson said. "When I first saw him, he had a big afro and he was all over the field. He was by far, the best player on the field and then the next year, he came over and joined our team."

Even at the youth level, Yedlin was under-sized but still a vital tool to his teams. At an early age, he displayed the traits that would eventually help him succeed at the professional level and make a quick rise through the international ranks. He wasn't just incredibly talented, though. He was also a sponge for new information.

"He was dynamic. He was a real leader. He was immediately recognizable as a leader and the kids really looked up to him," Raney said. "He was an anchor there and ran things like a quarterback. He was very usable and very coachable."

It was as a high-schooler that Yedlin started to shift his attention toward the right back position that has become his own.
Previously utilized as a midfielder to maximize his time on the ball, Yedlin understood that his future may best be served at the less-glamorous outside back role, where Henderson compared him in size and style to former Brazil star Roberto Carlos.

"He could have played any position at that level, but he had a bigger view and he knew that if he was going to be a pro, it was probably going to be in that spot," Henderson said. "He had more than just ability. He really had the drive to succeed.

He reminded me of Roberto Carlos as an outside back. He had that same build and style of play and could play in that mold."

For all of his talents, though, Raney still wasn't sure Yedlin would be ready for the professional ranks when he left Akron after his sophomore season to sign with Sounders FC. A lithe figure at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, the 19-year-old defender would have a tall task ahead of him in dealing with the big and physical forwards of MLS.

He showed quickly in his debut season that his size wouldn't be an issue.

In just his third professional game, Yedlin scored a pivotal goal against Tigres to help Sounders FC become the first MLS team to top a Mexican opponent in the knockout stage of CONCACAF Champions League. He continued to impress in league play, earning an MLS All-Star nod and recognition as a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year.

"I worried. His first year at Akron he was very good and I was happy he went back the second year. When he came out, I thought it might be premature," Raney said. "I really worried that he was going to be in over his head, but he's proved us all wrong."

Now, both Raney and Henderson don't take credit for Yedlin's meteoric rise to success. Even with their close ties to Yedlin and his family, they both watch in awe at the possibility that one of Seattle's own will be right there in Brazil with the greatest players in the world.

"It's awesome. I'm a fan, like we all are," Henderson said. "He's part of the Sounders family, so I watch it a little bit differently. He's a family friend, so I watch it a little bit differently. But I'm hopeful that this is not the end destination, but another stepping stone in a young career where he continues to do great things."

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