ORLANDO, Fla. — DeAndre Yedlin wants to be the U.S. soccer team’s “Energizer Bunny” and believes his time with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle has taken his game to another level.
His bursts from right-back can stretch defenses, while his pace helps him return to his defensive spot and disrupt opposing attackers. And it always surprises those who watch him play.
“Everybody tells me they don’t know how I have so much energy, and I think people feed off that, which is great,” he said this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Trinidad and Tobago.
The Americans would clinch their eighth-straight World Cup berth with a win and even a draw would probably suffice, due to a superior goal difference. A loss could result in a berth, elimination or a playoff next month against Australia or Syria — depending on the results of the Honduras-Mexico and Panama-Costa Rica games.
Yedlin missed last month’s home loss to Costa Rica and then a draw at Honduras that put qualification in peril. Having returned after recovering from a hamstring injury, he helped spark a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night that has the Americans on track to qualify.
“DeAndre did a very good job — and not necessarily in terms of his attacking prowess, marauding down that right-hand side,” said former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas. “Much more I think he’s learned to harness that energy and that speed that he has to use it to much greater effect when he’s defending.”
Yedlin left Akron during his sophomore year in January 2013 to sign with his hometown Seattle Sounders, the team for which he served as a ball boy.
He became the first rookie in eight years selected for MLS’s All-Star Game and was given his national team debut the following February by coach Jurgen Klinsmann as a 74th-minute substitute in an exhibition against South Korea.
Yedlin made another appearance two months later against Mexico, and then at age 20 was among several startling selections by Klinsmann for the 23-man World Cup roster in 2014.
“Especially being so young and not really expecting to go, it was a crazy feeling,” Yedlin said about his inclusion in the 2014 World Cup squad. “I can’t obviously thank Jurgen enough for putting his trust in me and bringing me into that, and that’s really what jump-started my career.”
During that World Cup in Brazil, Yedlin made late appearances against Portugal and Germany, then replaced an injured Fabian Johnson in the first half of the second-round extra time defeat to Belgium.
Yedlin agreed after the tournament to a $4 million transfer to Tottenham and reported to his new club in January 2015. But he got into just one match, as a late sub in a loss to Aston Villa that April. Yedlin was stuck behind England right-back Kyle Walker.
“Every day in training I tried to absorb what I can from him,” Yedlin said. “Not really in terms of just speaking with him, but just watching him, watching how he plays, watching where he is positionally, watching when he gets forward.”
Yedlin was loaned to Sunderland that September and became a regular with the Black Cats under manager Sam Allardyce.
“I’ve had to grow up pretty quick, but I’m glad that I chose to make this step to kind of move away from what I’m comfortable from,” Yedlin said.
Spurs sold him in August 2016 to Newcastle after they’d been been relegated to the Championship. The Magpies earned a promotion last spring under manager Rafa Benitez.
“It’s a very physical league. It’s a league that if you lose focus for even a little bit of time, they can punish you,” Yedlin said. “Working with Rafa has taken my game to another level.”
Yedlin made 27 league appearances but Klinsmann criticized him that October, saying he struggled in consecutive national team training camps.
A hamstring injury caused Yedlin to miss March qualifiers, the first after Arena replaced Klinsmann in November. He returned for the June games, then injured his right hamstring while making a cross in Newcastle’s July 29 friendly at Germany’s Mainz.
“Since it was the second time, we really wanted to make sure that it was 100 percent when I came back because the third time, then you have to look towards surgery,” he said.
Yedlin made his season debut on Sept. 16 and after starting three matches headed to Florida to rejoin the national team.
“He continues to grow as a player, and it’s great to get him back in,” Arena said.