As part of our “10 Years in MLS” campaign, former Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani winger sat down with some of the club’s most influential players over the past decade in a Mini-Documentary series presented by adidas entitled “Once a Sounder.”
This is a feature in Issue 19 of Sounders Monthly, Sounders FC’s original magazine. They are available for free at The NINETY, Soccer Celebration, GuestLink Services locations and Membership Central as well as the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and South gates.
Steve Zakuani: How did you originally get into soccer?
DeAndre Yedlin: Growing up, my uncle played and that’s originally why I started playing. I lived with my grandparents and my uncle was also in the house. He was kind of like my father figure. I wanted to do what he was doing. I was always pretty good, but anytime something bad would happen, like if I got scored on, even if I fell, I would start crying when I was younger. My grandpa would get annoyed with it, so my grandma would have to take him away from the sideline to calm down. It was like that all through youth soccer. We had to put a mute button on that [laughs].
SZ: Walk us through how you got to your Sounders First Team debut.
DY: I think I was on the oldest team at Sounders Academy the first year it started. It was a great experience. It was like all the best players from the state coming into one team. I went off to college, went to Akron. That was an experience. A lot of highs and a lot of lows. Of all the places that I’ve been, maybe besides Tottenham, that was the most influential on me in terms of shaping me into the player I am and mentally the person I am today. I needed it for sure. I made my debut for the Sounders at CenturyLink Field, and that was a dream come true. I was in front of my family. I didn’t really know what to expect. One thing I’ve always been pretty good at is staying pretty calm when I’m out there [on the pitch] in my debuts, and I don’t know why because I feel nervous, but when I start playing, it’s just like any other game.
Yedlin during his MLS debut against the Montreal Impact in March 2013 | USA Today
SZ: What was your first season like as a pro?
DY: When I went into that preseason, I wasn’t expecting to go into the season starting. I just expected to just learn the ropes. I was pretty nervous, but I also knew there wasn’t a huge expectation on me, which took a bit of pressure off. Then I remember Adam Johansson got injured in a preseason game, then I was the one who got called up to the ‘A’ group and did pretty well. I think Brian Schmetzer told me I was going to be starting the first game. The practice before the match, I was in the starting group, and I was thinking, ‘Uh oh. This is it.’ I just tried to play like I knew I could and did pretty well.
SZ: What was the scouting report on DeAndre Yedlin as a Seattle Sounder?
DY: A defender who didn’t always know he was a defender. A young kid with a lot of energy and every time the ball went forward, I was going. Every time. It didn’t matter if it was in a good position or not. It could be on the opposite side of the field in the corner, if it’s forward, I’m going. Positionally, I wasn’t really that sound. As an attacking player, it’s a lot easier to play there when you’re younger because it’s more of a position where you can be free. Younger players need that freedom. For me as a defender, I didn’t really understand the whole positioning part of it. It was something I’ve had to learn, and I’ve learned with experience.
SZ: What changed after you played in the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
DY: Confidence. Even when I have a bad game, the thing I tell myself is, ‘Those kind of performances that got you to the World Cup are always in you.’ It’s not like that’s a rare thing. Mentally you have to get to the right state, When I came back, I was on a high. I was very, very confident. I remember the feeling. I felt like I could do no wrong. It felt like you were almost too good for the pitch, which sometimes isn’t the best thing.
Yedlin with the United States national team playing against Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup | USA Today
SZ: When did you know you could make the jump and you belonged in the English Premier League?
DY: After my year at Sunderland. When I was at Tottenham, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a different level. This is crazy.’ What I didn’t know obviously is that Tottenham is up there. There’s different levels within the Premiership. Tottenham was definitely an eye-opener. Sunderland was a good move for me. It allowed me to get some confidence and really show that I belonged.
SZ: Is the goal you scored for Seattle in the CONCACAF Champions League against Liga MX’s Tigres still the best goal of your career?
DY: 100 percent. It’s not my favorite goal, though. My favorite goal is the one at [Manchester] City just because it was at City. But the best goal is definitely the Seattle one because I don’t score many.
SZ: What was it like to play week in and week out in Seattle at home in front of your family?
DY: It’s a great feeling, but it does come with a lot of expectations. It comes with some pressure. I don’t know what everybody is thinking back home when I play in England now. If I don’t play, I don’t know if people are disappointed or worried. I don’t know. All I know is that every time I go onto the pitch, if I’m not working my hardest, if people see me slacking off, that’s when I know they’ll be disappointed. When I was at Tottenham and I wasn’t playing, I know people were like, ‘Where is he? Is he lost? Did he get injured?’ For me, I hate seeing that because I’m here and I’m trying. It was a good pressure playing in Seattle. It pushed me to be the best I could be.
Yedlin with Newcastle during a match against Chelsea in January | Reuters
SZ: What did it mean to the 2014 U.S. Open Cup, your first trophy with the Sounders?
DY: It was a great feeling, that was my first trophy with Seattle. That year I was the person who would take all the selfies of the team, so I always had the phone. I was running around the field with the trophy, and Clint Dempsey was acting goofy as well, which the fans don’t always get to see.
SZ: What did it mean to lift the club’s first Supporters’ Shield in 2014?
DY: The one thing I don’t get about MLS is that the Supporters’ Shield should be the most important trophy, hands down. I know it’s an American thing to do the playoffs, but if you’re talking about the most consistent team over the whole year, that should be the winning team in MLS. That should be the champion. That was an important trophy to win because it meant we were the best team over the whole year. It was awesome because we got to lift it at home in front of our fans. That was my last year in Seattle, and obviously we would have liked to have won the MLS playoffs as well, but that was a good goodbye to everybody. It was a good note not to end on, but to take a little break, and hopefully in the future … we’ll see what happens.