Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
MANAUS, Brazil — The U.S. Men’s National Team has been in camp for six weeks now, and at no point during that time had DeAndre Yedlin seen any time as a right winger.
You wouldn’t have known that based on how the 20-year-old fullback responded when deployed on the right wing in the second half of Sunday’s 2-2 tie vs. Portugal.
In a surprising move in an even game with so much at stake, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann turned to one of his youngest and least-experienced players to provide a boost by inserting Yedlin in the 72nd minute. Yedlin replaced Alejandro Bedoya on the right side of the midfield and could have been overwhelmed by the momentous occasion, but not even that combined with the fact that he was playing in an unfamiliar position prevented the 20-year-old Yedlin from making the type of impact that Klinsmann had envisioned.
Yedlin helped set up the late go-ahead goal for the Americans in their eventual gut-wrenching 2-2 draw vs. Portugal at Arena Amazonia on Sunday night. He used his blazing speed to get to a ball down the right, raced to the end line and cut it back towards the center of the penalty area. A few fortuitous bounces paved the way for the ball to reach Graham Zusi, and then Dempsey, but nonetheless the impact was made and Klinsmann’s faith had been rewarded.
“We’ve been working on a lot of little things since more than five weeks and one thing is definitely to have Andre in our group for a reason,” said Klinsmann. “Not only because he’s one of our biggest talents, youngsters coming through the ranks. No, because he has the qualities to make an impact in the game right now in this World Cup, which he did and we knew it. That’s why he’s here.
“We knew with Andre’s speed, with his kind of also defensive skills because he plays with Sigi (Schmid) up in Seattle at the back, we have another weapon to push (Portugal) again back in the defense and create them problems. … It’s fun to watch that kid.”
Klinsmann – who lamented the referee’s decision to blow the final whistle while Yedlin was racing in from the right – subbed in Yedlin because the head coach felt the U.S. needed some speed on that wing against a Portugal defense that was growing tired. Yedlin has that in abundance and was able to provide it and more, giving the Americans’ attack another dimension following a blue-collared and more defensive-minded shift from Bedoya.
Yedlin admitted after the match that it was the first time he played as a right midfielder, but added that his responsibilities were largely the same as when he plays in his more customary position at right back.
“For me, it’s not too different because I play so high up the field anyways,” said Yedlin. “It was good. Fabian (Johnson) instructed me perfectly, let me know where to be defensively. That was the biggest thing for me, I think, where to be defensively. But other than that, it was pretty much the same: stay high, go at guys 1-v-1, defend 1-v-1 and it’s all good.”
It may not have looked it from afar, but Yedlin did have to combat some emotions. He was excited about earning his first World Cup appearance in just his fifth international cap, but knew he could not let his feelings betray him.
“This is the biggest stage. This is what every soccer player dreams of and those dreams were being made a reality,” said Yedlin. “It was pretty amazing, but it’s one of those times you’ve just got to kind of calm yourself because if you’re too excited, too hyped up, you don’t play as well.”
Many observers thought that would be the case with Yedlin when he surprisingly made it onto the U.S.’s World Cup squad last month. Some of the criticism was expected given his age and him being in only his second professional season, but most fans and media members let it go due to the dearth of options at right back and the perception that he would not see the field in Brazil.
Yedlin not only saw some minutes. He made them count.
“I noticed that the left back that’s run against me was incredibly tired, so I was just screaming at Jermaine (Jones) to give me the ball and he gave me a perfect ball into space,” said Yedlin. “I didn’t even really have to beat the guy, I just kind of got into space, took a touch inside and – Michael actually during one of the breaks he said, ‘If you get the ball to the end line, cut it back.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ – so I looked up and sure enough he was there, cut it back, I think it deflected off of one of the defenders, kind of a little bit chaotic but found Zusi and crossed it into Clint and it’s 2-1.”
In the end, the goal did not stand as the winner thanks to Varela’s nodded effort in the dying seconds. But Yedlin still gained invaluable experience and plenty of confidence from helping make that U.S. goal possible and Klinsmann’s surprise decision to play him.
“It’s a huge confidence-builder,” said Yedlin. “Just to know that he has that trust in me is incredible. I’m looking going into the next game hopefully make a difference if I get on the field.”