DeAndre Yedlin wasn't supposed to make the United States World Cup team. Not a mere 15 months after his professional debut. And he sure as hell wasn't supposed to play a big role. But Yedlin did make the team, and he played in three of the team's four matches in Brazil. Now, he's set to join Tottenham Hotspur. It's a big move for any American player, let alone a 21-year-old.
But Yedlin is much more than a promising player: he's the future of American soccer. And not because of what he could do at the 2018 World Cup, or the 2022 World Cup, or even what he could do at Spurs, but because Yedlin is the start of the new generation of American players.
Yedlin is an MLS homegrown player, and the very first one to make a U.S. World Cup team. He is a product of an MLS academy, and U.S. Soccer's Development Academy. It's the latest development system enacted in American soccer, and it's the most comprehensive one yet. Spanning most of the country and hundreds of clubs, the Development Academy casts the widest net American soccer has seen, and it provides some of the best youth coaches too. The pinnacle of the system is the MLS academies, where the league's clubs, who also have the most most and incentive to churn out stars, develop players and can sign them straight to their teams, just like the rest of the world.
American homegrown players already litter MLS. There's Yedlin, the LA Galaxy's Gyasi Zardes, D.C. United's Bill Hamid and the Columbus Crew's Wil Trapp, among others. Before long, they will be all over every team in the league, on teams in Europe and playing for the U.S. But not yet. Right now, it's just Yedlin. He is the sign of what is to come.
A member of the Seattle Sounders' academy, Yedlin was trained by the club as a teenager. After signing a professional deal, he quickly established himself as their first-choice right back. Months later, he was a MLS All-Star and the following year he was playing for the U.S. in the World Cup. Now, at just 21 years old -- and 17 months after playing his first professional match -- he is set to leave for Tottenham Hotspur, a top-seven club in the world's most popular and competitive league.
Yedlin's departure won't kill the Sounders either. They now have a big chunk of money to reinvest in the team, their facilities and their budding academy. The cash Yedlin brought them may produce two or three more Yedlins, academy products who could star for club and country. They already have two other homegrown players on their roster, and Jordan Morris leads a bustling crop of contenders to be signed in the next few years on top of that. Yedlin may be on the way out, but there will surely be other players, in Seattle and around the country, making the jump to their MLS clubs, into the starting lineups, All-Star Games, Europe and, one day, World Cups.
The future of American soccer is in the Development Academy. It is in MLS academies. It is the best, most comprehensive development system that the country has ever assembled and one that actually does resemble what the rest of the world has been doing for decades. MLS will never stop signing foreign players, and some players will fall through the cracks and take strange paths to the professional game, but the success of the academies will define American soccer.
By the 2018 World Cup, there could be three or four homegrown players on the U.S. team. Come 2022, it may be as many as half of the roster. Hamid is already a regular in U.S. camp, while Zardes and Trapp aren't far from earning call-ups of their own. Chicago's Harry Shipp could join them, too.
Homegrown players and the Development Academy are a sign of what's to come, but they are also part of the present. Yedlin has made sure of that, and sooner than later Yedlin and his peers will be the norm, not the exception. But Yedlin will always be the first, the one who proved it was working and would continue to work on the world's biggest stage.
Yedlin might be a star for club and country, or he might not. Maybe he is going to be the first young American to break through with a really big European club, feature at three or four World Cups and become the next U.S. star, or maybe he is going to be another highly touted youngster who never made the jump from promising to great. But regardless, he's the first in a promising wave.
Homegrown players are changing American soccer. They're changing the national team, they're changing MLS and Yedlin is just the first one to hit it big. There will be more, and American soccer will never be the same.