Interviews

'Newcastle feels like home': Yedlin on England, Seattle and his USMNT future

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a high-profile move, Yedlin has settled into England's second division. As he told FourFourTwo USA, life under Rafa Benitez is already paying off.

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“America is a melting pot of different cultures, which makes our country special,” says DeAndre Yedlin. “Our national soccer team is the same thanks to Jurgen Klinsmann, and that will hopefully make the team special in the future.”

In an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo USA, it quickly becomes apparent Yedlin, the 23-year-old fullback who has been capped 43 times by the U.S., is just as impressive in defense off the field as he is on it, especially when conversation turns to Klinsmann in a spartan dressing room at Newcastle United’s training ground.

Klinsmann should be remembered as a great coach ... as players, we really appreciate what he did for America soccer.

When Klinsmann’s five-year reign as U.S. head coach was brought to an end last month, there was hardly a voice raised in protest, but Yedlin is adamant the former Germany striker has left a positive legacy.

“I have nothing but respect for Jurgen, because he has done so much for the country soccer-wise,” Yedlin told FFT.

“Klinsmann should be remembered as a great coach; I don't think a lot of people see it, but as players, we really appreciate what he did for America soccer.

“He opened American soccer up.  He gave it a lot more variety of players. You see German-Americans and Mexican-Americans, and you see the guys that were born in America. All these people are coming together for one team, whereas in the past, it was really just players born in America.

“He brought everyone together. He was a fantastic leader, especially at the last World Cup. Unfortunately it ended against Belgium but it was a great adventure and showed the world we’re making progress. He was huge in terms of creating an identity.”

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Although Yedlin was used more scarcely in the United States’ most recent World Cup qualifiers, the former Seattle Sounders fullback had been one of Klinsmann’s most trusted players since being handed his international debut against South Korea in February 2014. Now, he’s ready to prove himself to Bruce Arena.

“I was sad to see Klinsmann go because he’s been there throughout my whole international career,” Yedlin said. “It was Jurgen who brought me into the team, nurtured me, helped me develop and then placed the trust in me to win 43 caps for my country.

“But Bruce Arena is a great appointment, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of proving myself to him. Competition is healthy, and we have good players, and he will be great for our team. I’ve never been coached by him, but I’ve heard lots of good things.”

Yedlin, whose Newcastle team is second in the race to be promoted from the English Championship to the Premier League, has had plenty to celebrate of late, including the Sounders’ MLS Cup success.

To see [Seattle] being able to raise the trophy ... it meant even more to me because it’s my hometown team.

“I’m not normally short of things to say, but I was really lost for words when they won MLS, because I’ve seen the club grow,” said Yedlin, who became the club’s first homegrown player.

“I know all the guys on the team and coaching staff, and I know how much work they have put in, so to see them being able to raise the trophy ... it meant even more to me because it’s my hometown team.”

Yedlin has seen enough on both sides of the Atlantic to be convinced the gap between MLS and European leagues is narrowing.

“One of the big similarities of the Championship and MLS is the physicality of the two leagues,” Yedlin said. “The Championship is a bit better. It’s overall a bit more technical, and the Premier League is a couple of steps ahead.

“The biggest difference is the atmosphere at English games. They’re second-to-none. Newcastle fans are especially amazing. There were 6,000 at on away game on a Tuesday night, which is unbelievable.

“MLS still has a long way to go, but it’s definitely growing. It's only 20 years old, and it's been amazing to see how much it's come on. It will go from strength to strength, and I'm sure it will be far more popular in 20 years’ time.”

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Yedlin believes he is thriving in England due to the benefits of being coached by Sam Allardyce when he was Sunderland’s manager and now Rafa Benitez at arch-rivals Newcastle.

“Sam Allardyce really helped my defensive play,” Yedlin added. “Twice a week there were sessions that were strictly defense only – working on your shape or one-v-ones or two-v-ones - which sucked but helped me massively.

“When I first got to Newcastle, Benitez worked with me one-on-one, which is something I’d never really had before with any manager. He’s achieved so much but is the most personable manager I have worked under. I’m learning all the time.”

Yedlin is also enjoying life in the North East of England after leaving behind the bright lights of London when he moved to Newcastle from Tottenham last summer.

“The weather, unfortunately, is one of many things that reminds me of home,” Yedlin said.

“It’s smaller than London and really friendly, just like Seattle, which is my favorite place, so Newcastle feels like home. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time in London, because it’s a fantastic place. But living-wise. I’m more comfortable in this kind of environment.”

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