Over a month has passed since the USMNT shockingly failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In that time, perhaps every negative emotion has permeated the minds of everyone associated with the program. For players, including DeAndre Yedlin, it’s likely a mixture of sadness, regret and resignation as the opportunity for redemption remains years away.
But the first step in that quest begins Tuesday as the Stars and Stripes take on Portugal in an international friendly. Interim manager Dave Sarachan has with him a youthful contingent of players with an eye towards the future. It includes just five from the squad which lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago, sealing their World Cup fate. It suddenly makes the 24-year-old Yedlin a veteran presence.
DeAndre Yedlin: USMNT Must Move on From World Cup Qualifying Failure
That carries with it a certain responsibility with respect to providing leadership. After the traumatic experience of last month and the resulting introspection that came with it, Yedlin should be well-suited to bringing perspective. He’s also the second most capped player whom Sarachan called up, behind Alejandro Bedoya. His nearly four years with the senior national team so far certainly makes him an elder statesman among the group.
Yedlin earned his first cap in February of 2014, distinguishing himself during the January camp ahead of the World Cup that year. He continued to do so during the tournament itself in Brazil. The Seattle Sounders right back at the time caught the interest of Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, who signed Yedlin that August. He’s since moved to Newcastle United, helping them achieve promotion to the EPL last year.
That combination of prowess for club and country makes him one of the more battle-hardened stalwarts of this camp. It requires him to take on an expanded role beyond what he’s used to in previous iterations of the national team. With 10 players younger than him, including five who have yet to earn a cap, that becomes even more apparent. But Yedlin is well-aware of how he needs to approach it all.
“I’m coming into this camp as a ‘veteran guy’,” Yedlin told Soccer America on Monday. “So it’s a bit of a different role to step up and be a leader.”
Yedlin isn’t the only one thrust into a relatively unfamiliar leadership role. With players such as Michael Bradley and Tim Howard absent, others such as Bedoya and Tim Ream can bolster the side with their experience. Those two are the only players Sarachan called up who are currently over the age of 30. It’s a testament to how inexperienced this squad is that Yedlin, Bedoya and Ream have one fewer USMNT appearance than the rest of the players combined.
But in a way, it’s by design. The ultimate aim of this exhibition in Portugal is to evaluate the more promising younger players within the player pool. What missing out on the World Cup indicated is the fact that the program is in need of a reset of sorts. The earlier it occurs, the better. And so Tuesday’s match is the beginning of a long journey that hopefully sees the US emerge stronger than ever after its lowest point in decades.
That’s not to say that there won’t be growing pains along the way. Though Portugal left out Ronaldo for this week’s friendly, the third-ranked team in the world still boasts a plethora of world class talent. It includes AC Milan striker Andre Silva. The Yanks do have a track record of success at international level against Portugal. It includes a win and a draw at the World Cup. But expectations must be tempered ahead of this looming clash in Faro.
For Yedlin and the others who took part in last month’s humbling result, this game serves as a fresh start. Nobody is happy about the fact that next summer will be devoid of World Cup action for the US. The players who failed in that regard echo such sentiment as much as anyone. All they can do is begin preparing for the long road ahead of them, one which will hopefully culminate with a World Cup appearance in roughly five years time.
“It’s one of those things where we are obviously devastated,” Yedlin emphasized. “So the quicker we can put the reality that we’re not going to the World Cup behind us, the quicker we can prepare for the next one.”