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When you talk to Sounders FC star DeAndre Yedlin, it’s tough to know whether to start with his stellar play, or his ever changing hairstyles, both of which have made the Seattle native one of the most popular and recognizable players on the Sounders and across Major League Soccer.
“We try to think of something new every week just to keep people on their heels and hopefully surprise people every time we come out,” Yedlin says of the elaborate cuts he cooks up with his longtime buddy Valentine at Valentine’s in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood.
“Everytime he gets a chance to work on my hair, he can do something crazy like it was back in the day. I love it. We’ll talk for a long time about what we’re going to do, and he’s a guy I can talk to for hours obviously since I have to sit in the chair. It’s a lot of fun,” he laughs.
Yedlin has been going to Valentine’s since he was three years old, about the same time he first started kicking a soccer ball around while growing up in Seattle. Raised by his grandparents, he was a standout in youth soccer who realized at a fairly young age the sky was the limit.
“I think when I was about 12 is when it really started settling in that I could do this for a living and that hopefully one day I would. But it is still pretty incredible that I’m doing something I love every day and getting paid for it,” he says.
Yedlin, who attended Seattle’s O’Dea High School, drew plenty of attention as he starred on some of the area’s top youth teams, including the Sounders FC Academy. After a stellar two years at the University of Akron, he became the first homegrown player signed by Sounders FC.
Yedlin admits with the homegrown label came plenty of pressure the first time he took the CenturyLink Field pitch in front tens of thousands, including family and close friends.
“Now I don’t really feel pressure at all. I just try and go out and play my game. First homegrown player is just a label, so it’s when you start to think about it too much is when the pressure comes.”
Yedlin not only handled the pressure, he thrived on it. At just 19 years old, he was a key part of the Sounders FC 2013 campaign, getting named as Seattle’s lone representative to the MLS All Star team and a finalist for MLS rookie of the year.
Yedlin was also named to the United States under-20 squad for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, and earned his first call up to the senior men’s national team along with 25 others, including teammate Brad Evans in January. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who won’t be able to legally drink for another year.
And despite his young age, he was seasoned enough to know not to show up for the national team with one of his more extreme hair styles.
“I figured it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, go into camp with crazy hair, especially with a German coach who tends to be a little bit stricter. So I figured I’d tone it down,” Yedlin laughs.
He’s hoping he’ll have to tone it down again this summer as a member of the national team at the World Cup in Brazil. Yedlin is said to be a long shot to make the squad, “but I’m crossing my fingers.”
Still, he’s setting his sights on helping his hometown team claim its first MLS Cup, and taking more of a leadership role both on and off the pitch.
“I certainly try to have more of a voice on the team and do what I can to lead, especially with the homegrown guys like me. They don’t know what to expect or what to do.”
While he’s the first, Yedlin is no longer the only homegrown player on Sounders FC. He was joined on the pitch last Saturday by 21-year-old Sean Okoli, a Federal Way native who also came up through the youth academy like Yedlin and made his debut in the second half of the Sounders 1-0 season opening win over Sporting KC.
And despite all the new faces, Yedlin says the team is coming together quickly. “Everybody that’s come in has been great and gelled with the team really well, it makes for an exciting year.”
You have to take his word for it. After all, who knows more about gel than the Sounders man of one hundred hairstyles.
“I kind of use my hair as sort of my energy or adrenaline. A lot of people don’t get it but for me it makes sense,” he laughs.
Sounders FC takes on Toronto FC Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. You can hear all the action live on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM and online at KIRO Radio.com.
Just how elaborate is Yedlin’s hairstyle? Sounders FC posted a time lapse video of one of Valentine’s recent creations: