In the wake of the US gonig out against Belgium yesterday I have a lot of thoughts. Overall, I was very happy with how the team performed in getting out of a difficult group. Not only did we make it out, we did so without all of the lucky breaks going our way. We allowed an unfortunate late goal to make life more difficult. We lost our one target forward to injury early in the proceedings. The only matches we lost were a) close and b) to teams that are MUCH more talented than we are. I'm a little shocked at the backlash against Klinsmann in the wake of a fairly successful tournament. Was he perfect? No. Was he very good? I think the surprising results (even the ones where we didn't win) would seem to indicate that he was.
My final observation of the tournament was the emergence of what could be a very interesting talent. No, not Julian Green, he's already owned by Bayern Munich so no one should be shocked that he has potential. No, I'm talking about DeAndre Yedlin. He wasn't even a professional until last MLS season and now he has to be looked at as the future of the right back position for the USMNT. Since this isn't a site focused on US Soccer or the USMNT, I'm going to break out an old gimmick from the days when I wrote for a site that was focused on US Soccer and I wanted to write about the Premier League. I'm going to play PL matchmaker for DeAndre Yedlin as his star shoots into the stratosphere.
Now, before we get started, it is worth pointing out that the World Cup is famous for making shooting stars out of the players who shine on the sport's biggest stage. In some cases like Alexis Sanchez and Luis Suarez in 2010 the newly minted stars are worthy of their new-found fame. In plenty of other cases the move up in level of competition is too much for the stars of the world's biggest sporting event. Anyone remember Ryan Babel? Eljero Elia? Keisuke Honda? Gio Dos Santos? Carlos Vela? None have been abject by any stretch but their inflated reputations based on WC qualifying and the actual tournament led to reputations and transfers that never really panned out.
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It should never be forgotten that a vast majority of World Cup matches are played against countries that feature only a smattering of, if any, players who start in top leagues (see Australia, Russia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, USA, Algeria, Costa Rica, Iran, Japan, Cameroon, Korea, Greece, Honduras, Croatia, Bosnia, and Mexico from this edition). This isn't to say that there are no good players on those teams but starring against Australia isn't exactly the same achievement as starring against Manchester City or Real Madrid.
Circling back to Yedlin, his exceptional performances are worth considering in the context of bigger things for a few reasons: 1) he's young (he'll turn 21 in a week); 2) he has only been a professional for a little over a season; 3) his athletic ability is exceptional; and 4) the performances that gained him notariety came against some of the best teams in the world - Portugal, Germany, and Belgium. Does this guarantee that he's going to be a hit on a bigger club stage? Not by a longshot. What it does mean is that bigger clubs looking for potential that can be had at a less than obscene price should at least be considering Yedlin. The matchmaker format takes a look at Premier League clubs to determine who might be the best fit to buy the player.
First, let's take a look at Yedlin and what sort of player he is now and how that might evolve. Even in the context of Major League Soccer, Yedlin's reputation is as an attacking right back who makes his share of defensive mistakes. His pace is on par with any player in the world. This Sky Sports article indicates ratings from the Wyscout rating service that projects Yedlin as a potential rising star. He sounds like he's straight off of the Glen Johnson production line but without the huge price tag. The overall rating for Yedlin comes in just under that of touted Southampton youngster Calum Chambers in the opinion of the same scouting analyst. Another big name in the transfer market at right back this summer - Serge Aurier - appears to be a better prospect at the same age (he's 7 months older) and with similar athletic gifts. Still, there are a lot of teams - Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United to name three - looking for a right back. Yedlin might not be their answer this season but in a world where it is reasonable to pay £30million for Luke Shaw, taking a flier in the £2million to £3million range for Yedlin seems like great business for the future.
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Here's the rundown of potential suitors (in order of where they finished in the 2013-14 table) and the likelihood that Yedlin is a fit:
Liverpool - Liverpool have been linked with a lot of defenders overall and a large majority of them have been fullbacks on one side of the field or the other. It seems likely that Liverpool's priorities are to find upgrades that can come in and make a difference this season and that's not Yedlin, he's likely to need some time to get up to speed in a more intense competition. On the other hand, if Liverpool are going to compete at the top level they will need to start doing what big clubs do and buying young assets that are loaned out to gain value and experience. They made a nice start of it with Oussama Assaidi last season and Yedlin could be a solid investment for a year or two down the road. Throw in American owners and the potential of creating a stronger connection between Liverpool and the US consumer market and there's at least a chance. Likelihood: 3 out of 10.
Arsenal - Like Liverpool, Arsenal have been linked to a LOT of right backs as potential replacements for the departed Bacary Sagna. Like Liverpool, they would likely (and rightly) see Yedlin as not nearly ready to come in and take any of Sagna's minutes. Wenger has no real history of buying American players since Danny Karbassiyoon in 2003 unless you count only-sort-of-American Gedion Zelalem (who, Karbassiyoon - now an Arsenal scout - is credited with pushing to Wenger). While Arsenal DO have a track record of buying young and bringing talent along, Arsenal are likely in the same spot as Liverpool on Yedlin. If they do it, it would be a secondary move and far less likely if they end up buying either Serge Aurier or Calum Chambers (both have been linked). Likelihood: 2 out of 10.
Manchester United - The extent to which Manchester United's new manager feels he needs to buy a right back isn't really clear. David Moyes certainly wasn't high on Rafael while he was the manager. What Van Gaal makes of the Brazilian is far less clear since he hasn't even been in Manchester much due to his World Cup duties for Holland. What little we know is that the people who write the gossip pages think that Van Gaal is focused almost entirely on his Holland players and former charges from Bayern Munich. Whether there's any truth to that or not remains to be seen as much as Van Gaal's opinion of Rafael. If Van Gaal does want to give Rafael a year to show what he's got then Yedlin could be an interesting reserve purchase. Oh, and what ever happened to that Tim Howard guy that Manchester United bought as a relative unknown from the MLS? Likelihood: 2 out of 10.
Southampton - OK, here's where it starts to get more interesting. Southampton are facing an exodus in the wake of their very successful 2013-14 season. They currently have two highly regarded right backs in Calum Chambers and Nathaniel Clyne but Chambers' name has been a frequent one in the transfer gossip and having a back-up plan to the back-up plan as well as buying young seem to be in the water at Southampton. You could argue that Yedlin might actually be too OLD for the Saints model of development but if they lose Chambers and could face losing Clyne in a year or two as well then buying a player with potential like Yedlin to back up Clyne and play in cup matches, etc. makes a great deal of sense. Buying an asset that has a great chance to appreciate also seems like something that would appeal to a club that has made out very well in the transfer market with recent sales of young assets like Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana. The only thing going against this scenario is that Southampton tend to develop local talent and buy fully formed foreign talent (see Lovern, Fonte, Wanyama). Likelihood: 5 out of 10.
Newcastle - The last few years of transfer windows have seen Newcastle looking for foreign bargains in the transfer market. Most of their purchases have come from more traditional footballing markets like France, Germany and Holland. With rumors swirling that Mathieu Debuchy could move to Arsenal (or somewhere else) this summer, Newcastle are likely to be in the market for their next inexpensive right back that they could keep or sell for a profit in a number of years. If they can bring themselves to shop outside of Europe, Yedlin would be a strong option who could work in with Davide Santon who played much of last season out of position at left back with Debuchy around. It's hard to see Newcastle going out of character and buying American but it would seem like a wise purchase for a club that looks for a bargain. Likelihood: 5 out of 10.
Aston Villa - Villa are a hard team to figure at this point. The owner seems to want to sell and all of the potential acquirers seem to be denying any interest. With Paul Lambert not exactly having covered himself in glory after taking over the club one wonders who is making the transfer decisions. Is the current owner trying to minimize expenses? Is a potential suitor calling the shots behind the scenes? Is everything just on hold? The current ownership regime has certainly bought American before with Brad Guzan currently on the team and Michael Bradley and Eric Lichaj former Villa players. Oh, and Villa need a right back with Leandro Bacuna not really a defender and Mathew Lowton having fallen out of favor. This could be an opportunity for Yedlin to not only move to a bigger league but to start a healthy number of matches. Likelihood: 7 out of 10 if management was stable; 5 out of 10 given that it doesn't seem to be.
Hull City - Steve Bruce's team could certainly use some more attacking options out of the back and Hull City have been linked with a few right backs so far this summer meaning that the FA Cup finalists and Europa Cup participants in 2014-15 are likely in the market. Steve Bruce's MO has generally been to buy proven Premier League talent rather than hoping that players from foreign leagues can make the leap. His key purchases last season - Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic all had Premier League experience with only Allan McGregor being a first-timer in the Prem. Bruce has been linked to Micah Richards, Alan Hutton and Yedlin's USA teammate Geoff Cameron, all Premier League players, in recent days. Seems like a long shot. Likelihood: 2 out of 10.
Stoke City - I've presented Stoke City out of order for a reason. If there's any truth to the Cameron-to-Hull rumor then Cameron's departure may open a spot for Yedlin at Stoke City. Mark Hughes managed Yedlin's USA and Seattle Sounders teammate Clint Dempsey at Fulham and saw Dempsey score 12 league goals. Hughes also started Cameron frequently last season to solid effect. Looking further at the Stoke City/USA connection, the club has also purchased Maurice Edu and Brek Shea in recent seasons implying that somewhere in the organization there is a pocket of belief that buying American represents a solid value. Whether Cameron goes, moves infield to center back or becomes a utility defender for Stoke City, this seems to be Yedlin's most probable Premier League destination now that Fulham, and their affinity for American players, have been relegated. Given the chaos at Villa, I'd rate this is Yedlin's best chance to land in the Premier League this season. Likelihood: 6 out of 10.
There are a number of clubs that COULD use a player like Yedlin either now or as an asset to buy now on the cheap and stash on loan for a season or two. For some reason, Premier League clubs as a group seem to be taking their time coming around to the notion that there is some value to be had coming from the States. Maybe dealing with single entity MLS is more onerous than we think. Maybe there aren't enough young decision-makers in power as there are in most US sports these days and the older generation still can't shake the notion of the US as a country that doesn't produce anything except maybe the odd goalkeeper (despite the US having outperformed England in two straight World Cups now). Whatever the reason, US players seem to find the Premier League market tepid even when there appears to be value to be had. I'd rate a Yedlin move to the Premier League this summer at no better than 50% overall with Stoke City and Aston Villa being the two most likely destinations despite the fact that the answer SHOULD be Newcastle or one of the bigger clubs who could stash him at somewhere like Fulham on loan and build his value for a season or two.