Chances are, Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin won't suit up for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, even if they've rejoined the team by then. Assuming they make their return for the July 13 match against the Portland Timbers, they'll have missed six regular-season matches.
Even before this weekend's match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Sounders have already claimed 13 points in the matches those two players have missed. The Sounders have registered three shutouts in that time. They'll be returning to a team that has learned to play a little differently without them.
But Yedlin, in particular, has learned a bit about himself while he was away, as well. Never one short on confidence, Yedlin was thrown into the fire of the World Cup and more than just held his own. As a late substitute against Portugal, he managed to stretch the defense and helped the United States nearly kill off the game. His real breakout performance was, of course, against Belgium when he played as a right back for about 90 minutes. Not only did he defend competently, even standing up Eden Hazard a couple of times, but he was a terror coming down the right side, swinging in dangerous cross after dangerous cross.
"It's great for him and hopefully he'll bring all that experience back here," Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann said following the loss to Belgium. "He's been awesome for us. For him to go there and actually get some gametime, that's an amazing experience. For him to have that now at 20 years old is just ridiculous.
"He wasn't intimated at all. He doesn't have that. He's got that flash, which is sort of annoying at times. That's what you need, you need that confidence. DeAndre is probably a little over-confident, which you almost need to have. It's having that right balance. He's been so good for us and he brought that to the national team as well."
For his part, Yedlin seemed to really enjoy the freedom he had under Jurgen Klinsmann and especially seemed to enjoy his time in the midfield.
"I think defensively it take a little more pressure off my shoulders, I'm in more of a comfortable position, an attacking position," Yedlin told Seattle-area media prior to the Belgium game. "It's been great my role is to come in and create stuff which what I love to do, especially coming in where there's defenders who are definitely beat from the game. It's great and a lot of fun, playing with a guy like Fabian behind me is incredible I'm learning a lot from him. It's been pretty amazing just to be able to get on the field and play a position that I really haven't played in the last four years. But it's similar to how I play right back with the Sounders."
Yedlin also mentioned during his post-World Cup interviews that he isn't entirely sure what position best suits him.
Given all of this, it's fair to wonder how he might be used with the Sounders.
Move him to the midfield
There have always been those who believe Yedlin is better suited for the midfield than in the defense. And there's no two ways about it, the kid likes to attack. Klinsmann seemed to prefer Yedlin as more of a pure attacker as well. With the Sounders, it would seem simple enough to move him up to the midfield and drop Brad Evans into the right back spot.
So, why hasn't Sigi Schmid tried this?
It's important to note that the longest run Yedlin got in any World Cup game was as a right back. His two appearances as a right mid were late in games and he was clearly tasked with attacking tired legs. Yedlin looked very confident and sent in some dangerous crosses, but let's not get ahead of ourselves either.
For all his speed, Yedlin doesn't really take guys on with the dribble and has never looked particularly comfortable cutting inside. That could potentially be addressed by moving him to left mid, but inverted wingers creates a whole other subset of problems and puts a lot more pressure on the fullbacks to create width. But maybe Dylan Remick is the solution. Can you imagine a left side of Remick and Yedlin running at defenses? Now that would be scary.
Keep him as a right back
About three years ago, Yedlin was moved to right back after spending most of his youth career on the wing. The man responsible for the move was Caleb Porter, then the head coach at Akron. His thinking was pretty straightforward: Yedlin had the potential to be a very good right wing, but could potentially be a world-class right back.
Yedlin is not a perfect right back. While some of the complaints about his ability to read the game and defend one-on-one are overblown, I think it's fair to say that if he is ever to become a world-class full back that he needs to better understand when to get forward, when to stay back and how to play a more straight-up style of defense. He's fine in all those areas now, but he's not world-class, yet.
But that world-class potential is still totally there. We saw a hint of it against Belgium. We'll surely see more of it as this season goes on.
Putting a veteran like Evans in front of him can only lead to good things, as they seem to have a better understanding of each other than many of the other Sounders. An Evans-Yedlin right side might not strike fear into the opponent the way, say, Yedlin-Remick on the left does, but it would probably be more effective.
One more idea
If you liked the way Yedlin and Fabian Johnson worked together in the World Cup, you're probably wondering how the Sounders could create a similar attack. Their best hope might look like this: Put Marco Pappa at right mid and encourage Yedlin to run the sideline with near reckless abandon.
Yes, this would leave the right side exposed, but it would be a very dynamic attack. Pappa loves to cut in on his left and Yedlin loves to overlap. Opposing left mids and full backs would have their hands so full they'd barely even be able to think about getting forward.
On the other side, you could have Evans and say, Remick, doing their own version of this. It would certainly be a different look, but it could be really fun. Implementing something like this would probably take some time, though, and might not be something implemented on the fly.
But whatever the Sounders choose to do, there's clearly no shortage of options. This should be fun.