I like DeAndre Yedlin. I think he's a very talented soccer play and I think he's going to have a great career as a professional and international soccer player. But I also think that he's not going to have that career as a right back.
Because DeAndre Yedlin is not a defender. And for everyone who keeps telling me that he can be a force from the right back position, and they're not wrong, Yedlin continues to show me that he will never evolve into that defense force. And that's fine, I think he's a winger or a wide midfield player anyway and the skills that he has right now are better suited for that position rather than right back.
Last Sunday DeAndre Yedlin and the Seattle Sounders looked horrific in a 5-0 pasting at the hands of the New England Revolution. Yedlin was subbed out an hour into the game because according to head coach Sigi Schmid, he wasn't playing well.
Obviously it was a rough day at the office for Yedlin and the Sounders in general, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Ryan Cowper of Sounder at Heart does just that in this post, but I have to disagree with the title. There wasn't a failure of holding midfielders for the Sounders, there literally weren't any holding midfielders. Seattle lined up and played in a 4-4-2, one of the most basic and easiest formations to play in the world of soccer (only formation I use in FIFA) and managed to have a complete tactical breakdown in the first half mainly because of one very simple reason.
Seattle's fullbacks, especially Yedlin, kept going forward.
I am not an expert in Seattle's recent formations but in the past they have played a 4-2-3-1 with Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans in the holding midfield spots. Due to injuries and a striker pairing of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins up top, Seattle's fullbacks never adjusted to their new scheme and New England exploited this time and time again.
Normally in Seattle's 4-2-3-1 formation, Yedlin can go forward at will because Evans is there to slide back and cover his position. This works for Seattle because it gets Yedlin up the field more and he can use his speed to recover where he's needed on defense. But last weekend it backfired spectacularly because Evans was playing left back and there weren't any holding midfielders, Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda were a central midfield pairing and were staying higher up the pitch.
Now, the reason why I love the 4-4-2 is because it's supposed to be balanced and easy to play, and yet the Sounders as a team were falling all over themselves with basic tactical mistakes. And while I'm going to focus on Yedlin for most of this article, I am not blaming him specifically for Seattle's loss. The Revolution continuously had acres of space to maneuver in between the Sounders midfield and defense and Patrick Mullins did a great job of occupying the center backs. Schmid never adjusted his tactics or told his fullbacks to sit back and his side looked completely unprepared to play out of the 4-4-2 formation. Stefan Frei was called into action and while he made a lot of nice saves, he also gave up a lot of second chances which the Revs put away early and often. Seattle was also in the midst of a long road trip and playing 3 games in 8 days following a midweek game at FC Dallas.
It was a team wide failure top-to-bottom and start-to-finish. But that doesn't excuse DeAndre Yedlin from making the following mistakes as a right back.
In the 14th minute, Chris Tierney receives a pass along the far sideline and plays a simple ball into the center to Diego Fagundez. Normally this wouldn't pose a threat for the Sounders, but Yedlin steps up to Fagundez giving the Sounders three players (Yedlin, Alonso, Neagle) covering Diego and zero covering Chris Tierney. The Revs left back gets the ball back from Diego on a one-two and crosses the ball in. Teal Bunbury's effort finds a combination of Frei and the post before the ball is bundled home by Mullins.
Now, you can point to Neagle and Alonso's lack of interest in covering Fagundez as the reason for Yedlin stepping up, but he shows a lack of tactical awareness here in my opinion. Neagle leaves Tierney assuming that Yedlin will be there to cover him, and Neagle's not wrong to do that. It leaves himself and Alonso to double-team Fagundez who will probably be forced to then play a simple pass to Daigo Kobayashi. Instead, Yedlin allows space in behind him and the rest of the Sounders defense who can't recover as Tierney crosses in and Mullins eventually taps in the opener.
In the 41st minute, Seattle is trailing 3-0 and has given up two goals in the span of seven minutes. Instead of trying to settle down and perhaps get to halftime only down three, the Sounders are admirably pushing forward. Unfortunately for them, they get caught out on counter, you can see Yedlin standing near the far sideline at the beginning of the video and his mark, Fagundez start heading up field as Neagle takes the ball to the center of the field.
Why Yedlin seems to be watching Neagle and staying on the far side of the field where the attack is going away from is beyond me. He got into a decent position before the highlight but failed to draw a defender or get the ball. But at the very least he should be paying attention the game around him and not watching the ball as it is turned over by the Sounders at the top of the box. Yedlin is caught out of position with no one between Fagundez and the goal and just for fun, Bunbury plays a perfect cross in a Diego chests down and one times the ball into the side netting. Once he failed to get involved in the attack he should immediately think about getting back to his position and playing defense.
Now, I can forgive Yedlin on the second goal for being out of position following a corner kick but it would have been nice to have seen him try to get back to his right back spot following that dreadful turnover in the defensive third. On the third goal Yedlin is forced (and seemingly directed by Neagle) to stick with Fagundez on the flank and the Revs exploit the Sounders defensive spacing as a team as Lee Nguyen plays in Teal Bunbury with a nice through ball. And well, that Chad Marshall own goal is just the icing in the cake for the Sounders bad day.
But what this game proves, is that in my opinion, DeAndre Yedlin is not a defender. He doesn't understand how to play his position. He doesn't understand the game situation going around him and too often it results in chances created, or worse, goals against his team. What also bothers me is that it's not the first time I've said this about Yedlin. And it likely won't be the last either. Not until I start to see him dominating defensively on a consistent basis.
The reason why Yedlin worries me defensively is if he can't master tactics and positioning in MLS, is what will happen at the next level? In his short stints with the United States internationally and the MLS All Star Game against Bayern Munich, Yedlin looked lost and uncomfortable at right back. It's a small sample size to prognosticate Yedlin on the next level, but right now it's all I have to go with and I'm haven't been impressed. Mainly because I should be seeing Yedlin improve defensively in MLS, not staying stagnant or worse, regressing at his position.
For a player that has tremendous physical talents, Yedlin too often is unable to adjust his play style to the situation at hand. Running rampant up and down the right flank might work most of the time in Seattle but Yedlin doesn't show the awareness to know when he should go forward or stay at home. He needs to be able to play a variety of styles and formations as the game situation dictates and be able to adjust to changing scenarios. On the international level, Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones are not going be sliding over to cover his position if he goes forward with the seemingly reckless abandon that he does with Seattle. And if he's going to be on the last line of defense, he needs to prove to me and likely many others than he can hold his own on the next level. That means improving his defensive skills.
And that's not to say that Yedlin doesn't have defensive skills. I've seen him body Graham Zusi off the ball and immediately start heading back up the field. Yedlin is a great help defender and can create turnovers and cuts out passing lanes very well at times. But in that same game I saw Yedlin stab in like an undisciplined rookie and get burned in several one-on-one situations. Playing the game isn't just about his physical skills, it's about using those physical skills appropriately and knowing what to do in what situation. I know that Yedlin has the tools to be a defender and that he is still young and learning.
But that doesn't make up for the fact that he hasn't learned in several years of being a pro how to play his position. He should be a defender first supporting the attack, not an attacker who plays defense. While Seattle allows him to do this and it has had success, Yedlin is not learning how to play his position from a defensive standpoint and it's affecting his team overall. If he had stayed at home on at least two occasions the Sounders might not have given up easy goals last Sunday.
When you combine the physical deficiencies in Yedlin's defensive game (1-on-1) with his lack of tactical awareness you get a performance that leads to a player getting yanked at the hour mark. And remember, Seattle as a team was bad, not just Yedlin, but I would expect better of a player on the fringe of a potential World Cup roster.
While we can debate whether or not Yedlin deserves a call up to the USMNT's pre-World Cup camp, what no one should deny are his physical and technical talents. He's an international caliber player just on technical skill alone, but as far as I'm concerned he's playing the wrong position. Yedlin's abilities, right now, are better suited for a winger where his mentality and aggressiveness should be an asset rather than a liability. He could be a menace as a box-to-box right midfielder, almost an old-school style, because the skills he has now defensively are great for supporting and double-teaming and his ability with the ball are impressive for a player at any position. But in a one-on-one situation or defending in space, Yedlin isn't good enough to play as a defender in MLS, let alone internationally. If Yedlin can't keep track of Chris Tierney in an MLS game, how can I trust him to cover Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup?
DeAndre Yedlin wouldn't be getting international call ups if he wasn't capable of playing at that level. I believe that he is an international caliber player and if he is on that plane to Brazil I hope that he can help the Americans at the World Cup. This late into the process, I don't expect him to pick up the tactics necessary to get one of those coveted plane tickets. With a World Cup group of Germany, Portugal and Ghana on the horizon the USA can not afford to have Yedlin playing right back for an extended period of time in Brazil. But his time will come.
A lot of people tell me that Yedlin is the future at right back for the United States. Right now, I don't buy it, but that doesn't mean it can't be true. I think Yedlin can excel further up the field, where he spent most of his youth career if I recall, and become a force in MLS, Europe and internationally. But if he does develop defensively and commit to playing his position, we could hear people comparing him to Steve Cherundolo as far as longevity and consistency. Regardless of where he plays, I think Yedlin will have a very bright career with the USA.
It will just be playing opposite wing with another talented youngster Julian Green.