Sounders' DeAndre Yedlin still finding footing as newest sensation
Even as he becomes nationally known, Sounders defender and O’Dea graduate DeAndre Yedlin has not forgotten his unpretentious life and remains reluctant to embrace his newfound fan attention.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Portland @ Sounders FC, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Most superstars don’t drive Subarus.
Especially their grandparents’ hand-me-down Subaru with 265,000 miles on the odometer.
But DeAndre Yedlin, after a World Cup performance that shot him into the national limelight, is still caught in the dynamic of being that 21-year-old kid who plays for the Sounders and being a superstar. And as he’s making the transition from old-school Subaru to whatever new model he buys with his $300,000 World Cup bonus, he’s also trying to comfortably move to the level of fame now afforded him.
As Yedlin sits in a ruby-red van, traveling around downtown Seattle on Friday, nowhere is this more obvious. He’s helping to promote Golazo, a local energy drink, before he turns his attention to the Sounders’ Sunday game against Portland at CenturyLink Field. It’s the first promotional activity he’s done since returning from the World Cup in Brazil, and fans’ attention is rabid.
“Hey!” yells a construction worker as soon as Yedlin climbs out of the van. “You’re the man!”
Yedlin’s eyes hit the sidewalk, not knowing what to do other than laugh politely and oblige the man’s request for an autograph for his son. It’s hard to shepherd Yedlin along for the promotion, because he takes such time on each autograph, each interaction: “How are you doing?” “What’s the name?” “How do you spell that again?”
With a swagger that is obvious when he steps on a soccer pitch, Yedlin doesn’t necessarily have that same mentality when it comes to fan attention. He engages with the kids in soccer jerseys who want a picture with him; flashes smiles at the middle-aged women telling him he’s cute; and is patient and friendly with everyone. But he admits all the love is still weird for him.
“Even when my grandparents compliment me, I don’t like when they do that,” he said. “I think in some ways it makes me feel uncomfortable, just getting a bunch of attention. I’d rather just stay chill and kind of lay low.”
Yedlin, the second-youngest player on the U.S. men’s national team this year, turned 21 on Wednesday. In an age of Johnny Manziels riding on inflatable swans, Yedlin went out to dinner with his family, then out with a few teammates late that night, when most places were empty.
It wasn’t that he was trying to be inconspicuous; that’s just the way he usually operates.
But with several TV appearances inspired by his World Cup performance, plus the money and fame that come along, it’s getting harder for Yedlin to “lay low.” He still had 232 unread text messages on his iPhone Friday, a week after returning to the states. The sheer number is overwhelming, he said, and he doesn’t know how to even start making a dent in them.
But he will. Yedlin remains in that transitional period between relative unknown and superstar on the national scale. That hasn’t stopped him from keeping his roots intact, his foundation strong.
“Always remember the beginning” is spread in ink on Yedlin’s two calves. Another tattoo, on his forearm, is a collection of Native American symbols depicting the things that lead to eternal happiness — passion, loyal friends, the unity of family.
For the 21-year-old, those tattoos’ meanings reflect the foundation of his life. Even as rumors swirl of Yedlin transferring to a European team, he’s too busy planning — and paying for — a trip for his grandparents to go to the Taj Mahal. He’s sending the rest of his family to Hawaii.
He’s also focused on his search for the perfect Louboutins to wear to the ESPYs, and a car to replace his old Subaru.
“That’s ‘always remember the beginning’ right there,” he laughed.
Yedlin admitted that a move overseas might one day be in the cards, as it is for any talented soccer player. But whether that’s tomorrow, 10 years down the road or never, pieces of Seattle stick with him always.
He’s gone to the same Seattle barber shop since he was 3 years old. He loves being by the water, loves playing in front of 67,000 in rave green, like he will Sunday.
Yedlin holds onto his beginning even as he contemplates possible new ones.