The 22-year-old right-back-cum-winger put in another encouraging defensive display for the Black Cats on the weekend.
While the debate over DeAndre Yedlin’s ideal position has been raging in American soccer circles ever since he first burst onto the MLS scene with the Seattle Sounders, the Tottenham Hotspur loanee is showing at Sunderland why his future should ultimately lie in defence.
Originally joining Seattle in January 2013 as their first homegrown player after starring at the University of Akron for two seasons, Yedlin soon established himself as one of the league’s top prospects thanks to his attacking skills from right-back and was making his US national team debut just 12 months later in a 2-0 win over South Korea.
Going on to earn a surprise call-up to Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup squad, it was in Brazil where the Washington-native caught the attention of the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Roma with three impressive performances off the bench, before later sealing a £2.5 million move to White Hart Lane that summer.
Eventually heading across the Atlantic in January after staying with the Sounders for the rest of the 2014 season, the two-time MLS All-Star’s Premier League career has seen him continue at right-back so far but, in the meanwhile, his role with the US has taken a different course.
Now being used exclusively on the wing by Klinsmann, plenty have wondered whether the versatile speedster could make the same switch at the club level in the near future, and not without reason.
A wide forward at the start of his college career before moving to right-back, Yedlin’s blazing speed and acceleration has allowed him to excel when bombing down the flank but, even against lesser competition in MLS, serious questions have been asked about his defence.
Frequently criticised for his poor positioning and ability to read the game, a full-time move to midfield to cover up those decencies has often been suggested but the concern remains that it would come at the detriment of his attacking impact.
Much like Everton’s Leighton Baines, the Seattle product is just not able to have the same kind of influence on a game further up the pitch without space in front of him and, aside from the odd flash of brilliance, his US performances have flattered to deceive of late as a result.
However, while he only saw a mere 11 minutes of playing time during his first nine months at Spurs, Yedlin’s Sunderland loan has since given him the chance to prove that right-back is where he belongs.
The 22-year-old has made three starts at the position since joining the club on deadline day until the end of the campaign and, though he has not quite been able to showcase his aforementioned attacking skills, his defensive work has been more than encouraging – including on the weekend.
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While Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge on Saturday at West Bromwich Albion may have ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat, the 27-times capped American still gave an excellent account of himself for most of the afternoon, as he kept former Black Cat James McClean in check and produced some solid statistics in the process.
During the 90 minutes, the Spurs-owned prospect recorded two tackles, six clearances and won eight duels, as well as completing 77 per cent of his 30 passes and managing to get through the game without being dispossessed once on 40 touches.
Ultimately, that kind of performance would not be terribly eye-opening by usual standards but, considering the questions which have surrounded Yedlin in the past, it has to be regarded as another big step in the right direction.
Whether he can consistently produce the same kind of defensive display – while also contributing going forward – remains to be seen but, given that this is someone who went from the college level to a World Cup veteran in the space of just 18 months, betting against him would be a grave mistake.
However, with Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and the highly-rated Kyle Walker-Peters to contend with at Spurs, whether he has a long-term future in north London is another matter.