"... I felt that [defending] was the area of my game that needed the most improvement and [Sam Allardyce] has really helped me with that . . . he’s just made me more aware. Positional awareness comes with experience [and] sometimes I would be going forward when it really wasn’t the right time. Now I’m picking my times better, and that’s helping me defensively ..."
DeAndre Roselle Yedlin said all that about two weeks ago. Better late than never, I suppose.
Back in 2013, Sunderland AFC bottled an almighty chance to sign a damn fine loanee in Tottenham Hotspur’s left-back, Danny Rose. Now, some three years later, the club faces a similar opportunity with our on-loan American right-back.
So the question is: should Sunderland push for a permanent deal for DeAndre Yedlin?
If we’re considering potential alone, then yes. Yedlin had that in abundance when he became Seattle Sounders FC’s first home-grown player in 2012. Under Sounders coach, Sigi Schmid, Yedlin’s two year stint in the MLS brought 69 appearances, semi-and-quarter-final rounds in the MLS Cup and CONCACAF Champions League, and victory in the 2014 US Open Cup.
For personal honours the full-back was lionised, though somewhat overhyped. Yedlin was both a point-stealer and match-winner, with 3 goals and 6 assists. He made the MLS All-Star Team two years running; is a US Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year, and the 2014 MLS Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield winner with the Sounders.
On the pitch, Yedlin gained plaudits for his blistering pace, good defensive recovery, surprising athleticism for only 5"8, his one-v-one play, and canny knack for covering a lot of ground on the right flank. He was far from a developed player, and his inability to play a decent final ball was (and still is) frustrating, but as long as he could find space to run, he had a promising future.
A lot of what made Yedlin a hot prospect was seen mainly in cup competitions. His two-minute goal-and-assist against Portland Timbers in the 2013 MLS Cup quarter-finals stands out. He also put in an assist in the 6-0 thrashing of Chicago Fire in the 2014 US Open Cup semi-finals, and put in a gruelling 120-minute performance in the tournament final against Philadelphia Union.
Arguably his best performance during these years was at the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Belgium, where substitute Yedlin caused all kinds of hell for Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen with ridiculously advanced forward play and excellent crossing to match. United States coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, was impressed enough to have persisted with Yedlin since in a right-winger role; with the American currently on 31 caps for his country.
All that potential, good form, and hype combined with some momentary exposure to a global audience led to widespread inevitable enquires for the full-back. And so, in August 2014, Sigi Schmid reluctantly accepted the £2.60m offer from Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur, and Yedlin was brought to the Premier League. It was a dream move – for a bit.
Y’see, after a nothing-loan back to Seattle, Yedlin was recalled to Spurs in January 2015 to play a dud total of 234 minutes for the club. That’s not all Premier League game time, either. 11 of those minutes were spent in the top flight, the rest: the U21 Premier League. Pochettino spoke a lot about Yedlin’s potential and future game time, but the occasional sub bench appearance was as good as it got in an anticlimactic debut for the American.
And that brings us to this season. With Kyle Walker irreplaceable, Kieran Trippier brought from Burnley FC, and Kyle Walker-Peters available from the youth team, there just wasn’t a place for DeAndre Yedlin. So, the defender made the health-hazardous move to Wearside in September 2015; debuted in the Capital One Cup later that month, and now has two assists for our club.
But! Has DeAndre Yedlin even been any good? Let’s take a look at his stats against other full-backs.
So, here’s what’s not good. As a tackler, Yedlin has been average by Premier League standards, with an accurate tackle average every 40 minutes (Patrick van Aanholt is on 33 minutes). His foul average, at every 91 minutes, may not be as unreliable as Billy Jones’ but is still too frequent.
Going forward, the American still hasn’t mastered that final ball yet. He’s shooting on average a woeful every 459 minutes – the second worst rate for a league full-back, and nowhere close to van Aanholt’s 69 minute average. Worse still is the player’s chance creation; he’s put in only 9 chances all season at a rate of one in every 153 minutes. Van Aanholt, in comparison, offers a chance every114 minutes, whereas Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno has already created over 50 chances. As for assists, Yedlin’s one and only is also not great. His first touch is also poor with an unsuccessful touch every 68 minutes – the league worst rate for a full-back. Finally, his crossing accuracy is one every 275 minutes, the sixth worst in the league.
So there are a few dozen negatives there. Surely he must be doing something right, right?
Fortunately, yeah, he is. Firstly, though he has a bad touch now and then, it’s safe to say that dispossession is not something DeAndre Yedlin f***s about with. He’s been dispossessed only four times all season – the second best in the league for full-backs. Compare that with van Aanholt too; he’s lost the ball over 25 times! Proper soft stuff. Yedlin’s rate of dispossession, at every 344 minutes, is also the league’s third best. Danny Rose, ironically, has the worst.
Defensively, the right-back is ... okay with interceptions. His blocking is spot on; blocking shots at a rate of every 229 minutes (which is all right), blocking crosses every 98 minutes (which is very good), and blocking a pass every 62 minutes (the league best rate for a full-back). Elsewhere, in attack, Yedlin’s dribbling success rate averages at one in every 65 minutes, making him the fifth best full-back for successful one-v-one take-ons.
So what does all this numeric crap mean? Well, the bottom line is we are still looking at a player in development. To Yedlin’s credit, the majority of these statistics have all improved as his season has progressed, and particularly so since January. All that potential Yedlin showed in the rave green of the Seattle Sounders has been given a lot of attention from Sam Allardyce, clearly.
And that brings us back to the point: should the club push for Yedlin as a permanent signing?
There are definitely reasons to do it. The American is still only 22 years old, and while he is not a vastly experienced player, you’ve got to also consider that 21 of his 94 career matches have been at Sunderland – that’s nearly a quarter of his entire career.
You could also argue that in his short time on Wearside, Yedlin has matured out of the raw, semi-overhyped prospect tag into a competent reader of the game. He’s a hard worker, there’s no doubt about that, and he’s got the right attitude to improve himself – something Sunderland supporters take time to appreciate in any player. You need only read back on the opening quote to this article, spoken by Yedlin, to see that he is very aware of his own faults.
And where better than Sunderland can a player learn the value of self-realism? This is a club that can make or break a player, and show what they’re really made of, and Yedlin – so far – is showing that he has what it takes.
Also, it’s not as if Mauricio Pochettino has any plans for him. Consider this: Yedlin trained for seven months with Tottenham Hotspur to prove his worth to the club. His reward for this? Spurs bought Kieran Tripper. That doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of hope for future opportunities.
As for the honest reasons not to sign him, well, there are just plain better right-backs out there than DeAndre Yedlin; right-backs with more experience, better technique, and an all-round reliability that the American just doesn’t have – yet. If a small fee was involved, Sunderland could be tempted. After all, Sam Allardyce has just spent the last seven months developing the player’s defensive play. However, any unrealistic price tag would be better used on a more dependable full-back than on somebody who isn’t ready. Tottenham Hotspur can afford to do that, but Sunderland cannot.
There’s also another thing to consider – does Sam Allardyce even want to play DeAndre Yedlin, or is he picking the best from a bad bunch? Billy Jones was the manager’s original preference at right-back until the Englishman wrecked his chances with repeated bouts of botched tackling, and who knows what plans Allardyce had for Emmanuel Eboué.
Then there’s Yedlin himself. The young American has gone on record to say that being a part of Pochettino’s youth revolution over at White Hart Lane is a motivating factor in his career. Why wouldn’t he want to prove himself for a team heading for UEFA Champions League contention next season?
Whatever the outcome is, it’s agreeable that DeAndre Yedlin has had a pretty good stint at Sunderland so far. We’ve learned a lot about him; that he’s a good dribbler, he can intercept well and has the right mentality for the Premier League; he can make a decent clearance off the line and has all the pace in the world to be a very dangerous forward player too.
Whether we keep our number twenty-four beyond this season, who knows? He may not be the loanee Danny Rose was but, in all fairness to Yedlin, we could do a lot worse.