RISING: DeAndre YedlinFans that have followed DeAndre Yedlin’s rise have seen him sport a number of different hairstyles over his still young career. They’ve also seen him play with a similar confidence to great effect on the field, for both club and country.
The routine began about five-and-a-half years ago. Every day before a home match, DeAndre Yedlin pays a visit to his barber. In Newcastle upon Tyne, his go-to spot is Made in Kay’s Barbershop, which sits just a few blocks from St. James’ Park, DeAndre’s home stadium for the past two years.
“Got to keep it sharp,” DeAndre quips.
Yedlin and a few of his Newcastle United teammates stop at Kay’s before every home game. He’s actually been coming here since he was playing at Sunderland, introduced by teammates of his former club just down the road.
But the superstition-of-sorts didn’t begin in England. It got its start when DeAndre moved from his hometown of Seattle to Akron, Ohio for college.
“I couldn't really get any kind of crazy cuts in high school, so I kind of just let go when I got out,” Yedlin told ussoccer.com, noting that his school had a strict dress code. “I'm a creative guy, so I say ‘whatever’ and go with it.”
Fans that have followed DeAndre’s rise have seen him sport a number of different hairstyles over his still young career. They’ve also seen him play with a similar confidence to great effect on the field, for both club and country.
GALLERY: The Many Hairstyles of DeAndre Yedlin
In late March, the 24-year-old became the 53rd player to reach 50 career caps when he helped the Men’s National Team defeat Paraguay 1-0 in a friendly in Cary, N.C.
Six weeks later, the speedy right back made his 34th Premier League appearance of the season as the Magpies’ closed out the year with a 3-0 win over Chelsea. It’s a mark only three other American field players have ever reached: Geoff Cameron with Stoke City, and Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey with Fulham.
“Obviously people see that I express myself, and sometimes people don't like that,” he admits. “But I think the Newcastle fans do. They know that I always give 110 percent on the pitch, no matter what. I'll do the dirty work for every single one of my teammates if that means that we can win.”
Having just completed his second season with Newcastle, Yedlin has always taken his chance when opportunity knocks.
FROM SEATTLE TO AKRON TO BRAZIL
Born in Seattle, Washington, DeAndre was raised by his grandparents – Ira and Vicki, or as DeAndre calls her, ‘Goddess’ – since he was one year old. His uncle, Dylan, was also influential in his upbringing and a major part of his life.
Only 10 years his senior, Dylan introduced DeAndre to a variety of sports, including soccer, at an early age. By his mid-teens, Dylan had shifted his attention from soccer to football, using his size to play defensive end in high school and eventually in college.
Naturally, when DeAndre got to high school, he wanted to be like Dylan, so he gave football a shot. But he faced a major challenge.
“He was five foot tall and weight 103 pounds,” Ira giddily recounts of the diminutive running back. “When he was a freshman, they gave him number 86. And the Jersey was so big or he was so small, when he tucked it in, it looked like he was number double zero because the bottom of the eights were tucked down in his pants.”
DeAndre also wrestled his freshman year, but soon realized that the sport he excel in and enjoyed the most was soccer.
Once the decision was made, things began falling into place. And, as it turns out, at a relatively fast pace.
DeAndre was a sophomore in 2009 when Seattle Sounders FC joined Major League Soccer, playing before crowds of more than 40,000 fans. Already a promising youth player, he joined the Sounders’ Development Academy team ahead of his senior year.
“The big conversation on sidelines in American soccer that parents talk about, ‘Oh, do you think he's good enough to get a scholarship to college,’” says Vicki, acknowledging the family’s goal for DeAndre at the time. “At least at that point, people weren't thinking their son might be a professional soccer player.”
When DeAndre was called in to a U.S. U-18 camp, he caught the eye of Caleb Porter, then the University of Akron soccer team head coach who was assisting that YNT camp.
Having trained with the Sounders’ professionals, and with Division I college scholarships on the table, DeAndre began to think he could have a future in the game.
Louisville and Virginia had offered full-ride scholarships, but Akron’s could only cover a portion of his tuition. But the Zips were coming off a National Championship, and had just had seven players selected in the first round of Major League Soccer’s annual college draft.
“Obviously if you wanted to be a professional, Akron was the school to go to at the time,” Yedlin said. “So I'm happy I made that decision.”
After two seasons at Akron, he was offered a homegrown contract to become a professional with his Sounders FC in January 2013.
He signed and wasted no time.
A preseason injury to the team’s starting right back opened the door for Yedlin, and he grabbed it with two hands, starting the season opener and 30 of the team’s 34 games as a rookie. In the meantime, he also caught the attention of U-20 MNT coach Tab Ramos, who selected Yedlin for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup team that summer.
“At that point, my confidence was so high,” he said. “I was playing every game for Seattle. I think I was just kind of on a cloud and I wasn't coming down.
“Obviously you have your club and it's great. But then to represent your country, to be one of 23 guys called into to represent your country at a World Cup. That's when it was kind of like, ‘wow, what's the next step?’”
That question would be answered in early 2014, when Yedlin was called in the Men’s National Team’s annual January Camp, making his debut against Korea Republic.
He made one more appearance – as a sub against Mexico – before then-MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called him in to the MNT’s pre-World Cup camp.
“I was thinking, all right, maybe he's just kinda calling us in to give us the experience, show us what it's going to be like, give us that hunger, that motivation,” Yedlin recalls. “And I remember we were all in the locker room and guys just started coming in one by one by one and just said, ‘good luck.’
“I was counting the numbers and I realized there was 23 left and then at that point it was like, wow. And then Jurgen came in and said, ‘congratulations, you guys have all been picked to go to the World Cup.”
He walked out of the room and called Dylan, knowing he would call his grandparents with the news.
THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF SUCCESS
“I feel like I should have felt a lot different than I did,” DeAndre says of his making his World Cup debut against Portugal. “I don't know why, but at that time it was just like it's just another game. I didn't think about the stage of it, and I think that is probably the reason why I did pretty well. I don't know why it wasn't going through my head at that time, but it was just like, ‘OK, it's another game with the national team and just do as well as you can.’”
Less than two years after turning pro, he had appeared in three World Cup matches in Brazil. He thought he was mentally prepared for the windfall that would follow.
A number of European clubs came calling, and a month after the World Cup ended the 20-year-old signed with Tottenham Hotspur, joining the London club in January 2015.
Things, however, did not go as he imagined.
“I think London was the first time in my career where I really went through a hard time,” he said, having made one appearance for Spurs that spring. “Obviously I wasn't playing. I was away from my family. I was in a massive city like London where you can get lost – both literally and mentally, you can just get lost.”
The momentum he’d been building in his soccer career appeared to come to a halt.
That summer, Sunderland expressed interest in taking him on loan from Tottenham. They were fighting relegation - they were not a ‘top six’ club. Still, DeAndre felt it would be a chance to fight for playing time and earn his place, so he took it.
The stint started off well, but soon came a blow. In a match against Watford, Yedlin was pulled after 20 minutes, with no explanation. He was out of favor, again.
“I didn't play for about two months,” he said. “I was just training and I started getting that depressed feeling again, that rock bottom feeling again. And I said, ‘no, I'm not going through this. I need to do something to get out of this.”
That something was found on Amazon.
DeAndre went on the online marketplace and searched for books about success, and bought the first one that popped up, titled ‘Maximum Achievement.’
“Every word that came out of that book, I felt like the author was speaking straight to me because I could relate to everything he was talking about,” he said.
One of his takeaways from the book was to set goals for himself, starting from small and immediate, to big and future goals. And little by little, he began to see progress. First getting minutes off the bench, then a start, then becoming Sunderland’s first choice right back again.
Knowing he needed to work on the mental state, he had another decision to make that offseason. His loan had ended, and he was back at Tottenham again knowing there was little chance of breaking through.
At the same time, Rafa Benitez, who took over at Newcastle toward the end of previous season, wanted to sign DeAndre. In fact, he’d had Yedlin on his ‘watch list’ for a while.
Newcastle had just been relegated, and they were Sunderland’s biggest rivals. Still, it was a big club, with a massive following, a huge stadium, and big-time coach who wanted him. He signed a multi-year deal, aiming to be part of the club’s – and his own – rise.
A NEW BEGINNING, A NEW ROLE
In their first year together, Benitez and Yedlin took the team back up to the Premier League, and this year cemented their stay with a 10th place finish in the top flight.
Off the field, Yedlin has found his way again.
He has his own house, a gated two-story with plenty of room for his visiting grandparents and his English Bulldog, Simba. On his walls hang framed jerseys he wore in college, with his clubs and the national team. Going on 7-8 months growing out his braids, he’s also launching his own clothing line soon.
“It kind of feels like I've settled here, and that's a great feeling. A lot of people don't realize that that can play a huge part in your performance and mentally.”
He’s a mainstay in Benitez’s XI, though not yet the finished product. Having won numerous European titles and coached some of the biggest clubs in Spain, Italy and England, the manager who noticed Yedlin years ago is now helping the speedy outside back reach his potential.
“We are working now on his first touch, so he can make better crosses,” Benitez said. “It’s just (teaching him) to use his strength, and I think he understands that and is working on that. And he will do better because he knows that he has the potential to do better.”
‘Rafa’ also praised how well DeAndre has embraced this opportunity.
“He’s a nice lad and he's always happy,” Benitez said. “I think everybody loves him, and the fans, to see someone that is working hard and also with his pace and going forward and creating chances for his teammates with his crosses, I think they appreciate him.”
Still only 24 years old, DeAndre makes no apologies for how far he’s come.
“In a way, yes I am lucky,” he says. “In a way, without those opportunities I don't get the chance. But you also have to look at the fact that if you don't take those opportunities and you don't make the best out of them, then I'm not where I am today. And I think that's what my career has kind of been built off of, taking the opportunity when I need to.”
He’s been the only World Cup veteran called in to the two most recent MNT camps, taking the field against Portugal, Paraguay, Ireland and France alongside teenagers making their senior team debuts. So he’s accepts that he’s no longer the ‘young guy’ with the MNT.
“When guys come into camp and are looking up to you and asking you for advice, it's kind of crazy because I was doing that just a year ago, two years ago,” he said. “But, obviously now that there's a younger generation coming through, I've kind of had to take on that role and it's awesome. I think it even helps boost my game because it keeps me in the game and keeps me thinking, ‘what would I do in this situation?”
And just as he never imagined playing in a World Cup only three years out of high school, he knows there’s always someone nipping at your heels, waiting for their window to open
“It's that sort of thing where nobody can ever be comfortable and that's what I've tried to preach to these younger guys,” he says. “We're friends obviously, but try to take my spot because that only makes the whole team better. That's healthy competition, that's good competition and that's ultimately, as a country, what's going to keep driving us forward and keep making us better.”