Let's be honest, few players fit the definition of a Sounder better than DeAndre Yedlin. He was born and raised in Seattle, played club soccer for some of the best youth teams in the area, joined the Sounders FC Academy at the first opportunity, continued playing for the Sounders throughout college, and has played his tail off the past two years as a professional for club and country. And yet, Ives Galarcep questions whether Yedlin is really deserving of being considered a "homegrown" player "in normal soccer terms."
Galarcep's core argument is that MLS clubs are not doing a good enough job in developing young talent into professionals. He argues that slapping the Homegrown label on any talented player that comes into contact with an Academy glosses over the problems with youth development. He suggests that the league should focus on "true homegrown players": those that "spent more years in an MLS academy than with another youth team or college team."
By this standard, he believes calling Yedlin a Homegrown player is a stretch:
Yedlin spent less than two years in the Seattle Sounders academy before heading to Akron University, where he spent two years developing under well-established talent developer Caleb Porter, now the head coach of the Portland Timbers. The Sounders did play a role in developing him, and did give him the opportunity to thrive as a pro by starting him as a rookie, but the reality is the Sounders were responsible for only a fraction of Yedlin's development prior to turning pro.
Yedlin did only play one season for the Sounders FC Academy, while he played two for Emerald City FC, two for the Northwest Nationals, two for Crossfire FC, three for O'Dea High School, and two for Akron University. In addition, it was apparently Caleb Porter who first encouraged Yedlin to switch to right back, prior to Yedlin suiting up for the Sounders Academy. Finally, Yedlin had already earned various callups to USMNT youth camps, indicating that he was already playing at a very high level before joining the Sounders Academy. But does this really mean that the Sounders were responsible for "only a fraction" of his development? (Let's ignore that 99% is also a fraction) Should they downplay their involvement in his astounding journey these past two years?
Hardly. While there are plenty of clubs, coaches, family and friends who can share credit for helping Yedlin get to where he is today, the Sounders organization deserves to claim Yedlin as a "Homegrown," in every sense of the word.
Yedlin joined the Sounders Academy in 2010, the first year of its existence. He was not someone whom the Academy brought in for his last year just to establish eligibility prior to his graduation; Yedlin is an original Sounders Academy alumni. The Sounders Academy formed by absorbing some of best local players and coaches--Aaron Kovar played for Emerald City FC prior to joining the Academy and Sean Okoli played for Washington Premier FC.
More importantly, Yedlin was already very familiar with his Sounders Academy U18 coaches: head coach Dick McCormick and assistant Sean Henderson (Chris Henderson's brother). Both McCormick and Henderson were coaching with Crossfire Premier prior to joining the Academy in 2010. Both are still with the Sounders today. Their work with Yedlin spans multiple years.
Yedlin's year and a half with the Sounders Academy had some of the most important months of his development. It was with the Academy that he solidified his position as a right back -- the Henderson brothers especially agreed that his future was not as an attacking midfielder. The Academy gave him the opportunity to play and train with the Sounders first team players. Zakuani was one of the ones who helped him finalize his decision to play for Akron. Yedlin was able to play in a far more professional environment than any before, and was able to prepare for what turning pro would be like.
Contrary to what Ives seems to suggest, Yedlin continued developing under the Sounders even after graduating and moving to Ohio. Yedlin played 16 games of the Sounders U-23 team's 2012 season, a pretty substantial number compared to the 20 games he played for Akron as a Freshman and the 22 he played as a Sophomore. Yedlin's coach with the Sounders U-23s? Darren Sawaztky, then the Sounders Director of Youth Development. Additionally, HGP rules mandated that Yedlin put in a minimum of 30 training sessions with the Sounders during his two years in college to maintain HGP eligibility. Playing with the U-23s during his summer may have satisfied this, but I'd be willing to bet Yedlin still put in more than those 30 training sessions with the Sounders FC/Sounders Academy.
All of this is before we even consider the growth and development of Yedlin after he signed as the Sounders' first HGP in history.
And even putting aside the "what club developed him" angle, Yedlin is clearly a Sounder at Heart. He is a Seattle native, living here all his life up until college. He grew up admiring and looking up to the USL Sounders. He grew up with Griffey and Payton, Ichiro and Hasselbeck, Neihaus and Keller. He is #SeattleLove. This is his home and where he has grown. He is a Seattle Sounders FC Homegrown Player, whatever definition you want to use.