Yedlin returns to Sounders determined to bring an MLS Cup trophy to Seattle

On May 12, DeAndre Yedlin departed New England with Sounders FC teammates Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans bound for Palo Alto, Calif., to train with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. He returned to his hometown of Seattle 55 days later with a different perspective on the game, a bevy of new experiences and the attention of teams and fans from around the world.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that Yedlin remains grounded in Seattle, showing maturity beyond his 20 years.

“I’m the same person. I haven’t changed. I’m just known by a little bit more people now,” Yedlin said, flashing the smile that has endeared him to Sounders FC fans and now has catapulted him into the public eye after helping the U.S. reach the Round of 16 in the World Cup.

When Yedlin went to Stanford University for training with the U.S. team, he had no expectations of playing in the World Cup. However, after logging 112 minutes against Portugal, Germany and Belgium, he has gained a new view of the game. Playing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Thomas Muller and Eden Hazard, Yedlin was able to gage his level of play against some of the best players in the world.

As he continues his journey through the soccer stratosphere, each of those experiences will undoubtedly help him reach his lofty and ever-evolving goals.

“Just being able to see how quick they are, see their movements and being able to compare yourself to them was a big takeaway for me,” he said. “It really showed me where I need to be to be at that top level.”

Yedlin returned to training with his Sounders FC teammates on Monday, completing a whirlwind tour that included media events in New York over the weekend. He now sets his sights on the rival Portland Timbers, whom Seattle will meet in the U.S. Open Cup at Starfire Stadium on Wednesday – the same day Yedlin will be celebrating his 21st birthday – and in MLS play at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.

He has already transitioned back to focus on playing with the Sounders FC crest on his chest even as interest mounts and rumors swirl from clubs around the world. That was an inevitability with a talent as unique as Yedlin, but a tremendous showing on the world’s biggest soccer stage accelerated that process.

That interest is a source of pride in Sounders camp, where Yedlin started playing as a 17-year-old in the Sounders FC Academy system in 2010.

“How many 21-year-old right backs have three World Cup games under their belt? That’s a very exclusive market,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s something that we’re proud of. It’s something that our Academy should be proud of. The guys who have worked the Academy over the years – Dick McCormick has coached him, Darren Sawatzky was involved in the Academy, Marc Nicholls is there now – have a lot to be proud of. It’s a process. It’s not something that happens overnight.”

Even with those dazzling prospects on the horizon, Yedlin keeps his gaze set on winning for his hometown club. At the midway point of the regular season, Seattle has a league-leading 11-4-2 record and is in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup for the fifth time in six seasons at the MLS level.

“I love this team. It’s easy to focus on a team when you love them. It’s very easy to do, actually,” Yedlin said. “I’m just focused on Seattle and focused on hopefully winning the MLS Cup. MLS is such a growing league. MLS is really getting up there and it’s becoming one of the top leagues in the world. That shifts a little bit as MLS gets better and better.”

An MLS All-Star and a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year in 2013, Yedlin has seen a lot in his young professional career. That has included a trip to Turkey for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in addition to his seven caps with the U.S. National Team this year.

In addition to the lessons he learned on the field, he also was granted some perspective in life after living out a dream of playing in the World Cup.

“Enjoy every moment,” Yedlin said. “We were gone for two months, but it seemed like we were gone for a day. Everything went by in a blur. There were definitely moments that I would definitely like to go back and relive. I appreciate every moment a little bit more now.”