With MLS's 19th season kicking off this weekend, the Youth Soccer Insider's "When They Were Children" series is looking back at the formative years of some of the league's brightest stars, such as the Seattle kid who now starts on the team for which he used to fetch balls.
By Mike Woitalla
Rarely does a professional athlete have such close ties to his club as DeAndre Yedlin does to the Seattle Sounders.
When the Sounders still played in the USL, Yedlin served as a ballboy. When they became an MLS team, Yeldin attended games at Qwest Field and cheered them on.
When they launched an academy program, he became a youth Sounder. He hung out with Seattle star Fredy Montero, who stayed at the house of a mutual friend, a Colombian like Montero. In between his two college seasons at Akron he played for the Sounders’ USL PDL U-23 team.
Yedlin was raised by his grandparents, Ira Yedlin and Vicki Walton, and became enchanted with soccer thanks to their son, his uncle, Dylan Walton-Yedlin, who is 9 years older.
“I was always on the sidelines of my uncle’s soccer games with Emerald City kicking the ball around and watching the games,” Yedlin says. “He was an older brother/father figure for me.”
His grandmother signed him up for a team as soon as he was old enough.
Dylan, says DeAndre, grew out of his soccer body and became a football star, a two-time All-American at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. DeAndre played for Emerald City and Northwest Nationals before joining Crossfire’s Academy team. When its coach, Sean Henderson, brother of Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson, moved the team to the Sounders, Yedlin came along.
When at age 12 he got invited to ODP camps Yedlin started believing he might have a chance to go far in soccer, although he still tried other sports, including wrestling and football in his freshman year of high school.
“It was the first time and the last time,” he says. “I was a 103-pound running back and corner back.”
Yedlin, now 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, ran track and competed in the long jump in high school, but quickly figured out soccer was his “love.”
He played sweeper, forward, outside midfield and central midfield, and admired Cristiano Ronaldo.
“And I liked Dani Alves,” he said. “When I moved to right back I tried to play like him. … Playing those different positions definitely helped prepare me for the pros because I had to analyze different parts of the field.”
A big highlight of his youth career was at age 14 when his team vied to win State Cup with extra motivation because the regionals would be in Hawaii. They succeeded. "That was great," he said.
Last year, at age 19, Yedlin became the club’s first “homegrown” signing. In the opening game of the season, in front of 39,000 fans, he started and went the full 90 minutes. In his first year as a pro, Yedlin played 37 games in all competitions and he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Last month he made his U.S. national team debut.
Previous editions of the Youth Soccer Insider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Diego Fagundez & Mike Magee
MLS 2014 SuperDraft Picks: Andre Blake, Steve Birnbaum, Christian Dean, Steve Neumann, Eric Miller, Damion Lowe.
Darlington Nagbe, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, Luis Silva, Juan Agudelo
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream