DeAndre Yedlin is no stranger to fighting for playing time. It’s a challenge he has faced since making the jump to England in 2015.
It is also a fight he has been able to win for several years now as the first-choice right back for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Yedlin’s once rock-solid hold on a starting role with the USMNT is in limbo now that Gregg Berhalter is experimenting with playing Yedlin as a right winger in order to deploy Tyler Adams at right back.
That new reality doesn’t bother Yedlin, who sees motivation where others might see trouble.
“That’s great, that’s what you get you at the top of your game, the competition,” Yedlin said at USMNT camp on Tuesday. “I literally just experienced it about two weeks ago. I got dropped from the team at Newcastle, and for a couple of days there I felt sorry for myself and had my own little pouty fest, whatever you want to call it, but then you have to realize nothing’s going to change if you don’t change. I just tried to dig down deep in training, do what I can, work harder, and eventually I got back in the team.
“Overall it makes better players, it’s good competition.”
Yedlin has found himself adapting to a new role at Newcastle, seeing time as a wingback, and even some time in midfield. Though it took some adapting, Yedlin has taken to the new role well, which bodes well for his more recent shift with the USMNT.
“I think I’ve definitely found it a lot, I don’t want to say easier because it’s not easier by any means, but a little bit better, at least at Newcastle, in the wingback role,” Yedlin said. “Having that extra guy behind me, I think if anything you can take a little bit more risk going forward, and defending. When you’re going to step in on a guy and you miss the ball you know there’s a guy behind you ready to cover you. It gives you a little more freedom to take some risks.”
Yedlin has arrived in USMNT camp as one of the team’s veterans, when it wasn’t too long ago that he was seen as a youngster.
“Now I have a much better understanding,” Yedlin said. “That just comes with age. That’s just having games under my belt. Not only in the right back position, but now I’ve played as a wingback, and obviously here maybe playing as a winger. It’s a much better understanding now, and I just pick up on things easier.
“Even if I was told something back then it would take a little bit to process it, but now I pick up on things easier, but that just comes with experience.”
In his earliest days with the national team, Yedlin saw time as a fullback, but also occasionally in attacking roles where it felt like he was simply being tossed into matches to disrupt opposing defenses, even though he rarely had a clear idea of what his duties were.
“There was a lot of games then, more than probably I can name, that it just didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing,” Yedlin said. “I was just out there, trying to run at people and make a difference, use my speed and get in behind.
“It’s good now to have that understanding, knowing positionally more where I need to be,” Yedlin said. “That’s not to say I’ve perfected it by any means. There’s still a lot that I need to work on, especially positionally.”
Yedlin’s improved sense of positioning will serve him well as he works on his new role with the USMNT. It is a shift Yedlin is prepared for, and one he understands.
“I was definitely very open to it,” Yedlin said. “I’m not going to tell him ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing’. It’s obviously how he sees it. The way he wants to play with the outside backs I think it does suit me better to play in the wing position in this formation. It’s a position where you’re high and wide and you get the ball and you go forward and attack, which is more or less what I do at Newcastle so it does have a lot of similarities to how I’ve been playing.”
As the USMNT prepares for its first match at full-strength under Berhalter, there have been plenty of questions aimed at the team’s veterans about the lingering memories of missing the 2018 World Cup. Yedlin is one of the few players who were involved in the team’s failed qualifying campaign, but isn’t spending much time thinking about what he acknowledges was one of the most painful memories of his career.
“The focus now is on this new group, this new young group that’s looking to push forward,” Yedlin said. “We obviously have these tournaments between now and the World Cup, but obviously the main goal is the World Cup. That’s what we’re going to be focused on now. I don’t think there’s any reason to think about the past.”