What a year it has been for Yeimar “El Tanque” Gomez Andrade. The centerback currently leads MLS in interceptions (86), is tied for second in tackles (56), earned his first trip to the MLS All-Star game and is among the front-runners for the league’s Defender of the Year. As he leads the Rave Green in minutes played, being an absolute anchor in the backline, it is hard to imagine that the Colombian started the first two games of the season on the bench.
“I’m thankful to the coach, at that moment he did not think I was in good form and did what was best for me and the team,” Yeimar said as he talked about not starting in those early matches.
“The coaching staff are the ones who see me on a daily basis, they know my potential and knowing myself, I think when they did that to me, it helped me to do better day after day.”
It was interesting to hear the Colombian defender praise Brian Schmetzer’s decisions, admit he had a subpar preseason per his own standard and crediting the club for asking more of him to win back his starting spot, as a partial reason to his phenomenal season. All that work has paid off in a new way as well when he got unexpected call-up to a national team with a vast number of talented centerbacks who all play in top European leagues.
Yeimar actually told Pulso Sports a few days ago exactly how he first found out that his name was in Colombia’s call-up list for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
“I was sitting doing an English assignment when I received a call from my uncle Edwin who was here visiting about a month ago and I said to myself, ‘if I answer I’ll be distracted but If I don’t answer now, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to take the call today.’”
One thing that never crossed the 29-year-old’s mind was that the call he thought about not taking, had anything to do with a childhood dream that he had all but given up on. Actually, Yeimar was initially confused when his uncle congratulated him with such joy and simply wondered why, “Congratulations for what? We didn’t win this week, we tied and I didn’t even get to score a goal,” Yeimar said with a laugh
It was not long after that when a still skeptical Gomez Andrade heard that he would get the chance to wear “Los Cafeteros” jersey in an official CONMEBOL match.
“As my uncle laughed he said, no papi, you have been called by the Colombian national team. While I stood in disbelief, I simply asked him a few times if he was joking, if he was messing with me and all he replied was ‘yes papi I swear, I swear.’”
It was not until Yeimar personally looked at the Federation’s social media when he actually believed it, right after he made sure to call his mom immediately so she would not hear the unbelievable news from anyone else other than him. Lucky for Pastor, he did get to talk his mom before the news spread like wildfire in his hometown and around his family, who all knew how much this meant for him.
“Growing up playing soccer in the neighborhood, you always wished to play in the first division and if things go your way, one day getting a call up to the national team,” he said. “That was always my dream but as time passes, you do start to think negatively and say to yourself that it’s just not going to happen. To be honest, there were times I did think that way because Colombia has such a great player pool and good players are discovered daily.”
Ironically, when he decided to take on a new challenge by making the leap from Club Union de Santa Fe to the Seattle Sounders, there were many who believed he was making a terrible decision, sentencing his career for moving to a retirement league. Nonetheless, knowing that betting on his talent and work ethic has always paid off, he took that step without an ounce of doubt, and even if he had no idea, that payoff would be getting to “La selección Colombia.”
“People need to stop looking at MLS like a business move, that players just come to get paid because that’s not the case,” Yeimar said. “This is a growing league; those looking from the outside do not see the potential, the talent that’s here and the talent that’s still to come.”
That said, regardless of what anyone thought prior to his move to Seattle, ever since he put his mind into becoming a professional soccer player, Gomez Andrade has always taken high risks as long as there was potential at a higher reward. This has been true for the Tado, Colombia native as early as his teenage years, when playing in the youth divisions of Chico FC in Bogota, hours away from his home was the first step to achieve his ultimate goal.
However, as it is often the case at the beginning of any life journey, things did not work out as he hoped they would. Despite his physical attributes and raw talent, Yeimar was not seeing much playing time at Chico and at only 16 years old took the biggest gamble of his life.
“At that time, I met Chaca Palacios and Mario Garcia,” Yeimar said as he explained a turning point in his youth soccer career, thanks to catching the eye of two senior players from Chico that noticed his talent early.
“Mario Garcia had spent some time in Argentina. He called me at home and said, ‘Yeimar, do you want to try out in Argentina, test your luck there.’
“I said I would love to. At that moment, as a footballer, as a dreamer, when people mentioned playing in Brazil or Argentina, you would just say, wow, those are powerhouses.”
At the suggestion of two well-recognized players, with nothing more than a backpack full of clothes, one pair of cleats, plenty of determination and still a teenager, Yeimar moved to another country to chase down his objective and become a pro. From living in a shared home used by a dozen youth trialists, eating nothing other pasta on most days, to struggling to land on a team beyond Rosario Central’s farm system for being underage, nothing was easy for Yeimar even after he was 18 and actually broke to Rosario’s first team.
Making a name for himself proved to be more challenging than he thought, even while moving up the rankings of Rosario Central. His style and physical attributes did land him on Buenos Aires’ Arsenal de Sarandi but only on a loan. It was during his time in Avellaneda where once again he felt the lack of playing time would hinder his possibilities of growth. In order to change that, Yeimar would have to make another drastic change which was suggested by his former agent.
Yeimar’s former agent thought it would be better to be playing at a smaller club than and suggested another change in clubs.
Confident in his play, Yeimar knew that even if he had to drop to Primera B Nacional (Argentine second division), more playing time would increase his chance at dominating the competition and stand out enough to land a new deal at a better club. As it has through his entire life, betting on himself was the way to a much larger opportunity and the rest is history. Union de Santa Fe signed the Colombian centerback where he became one of the most important players in the club.
It is that willingness to get through adversity, which has not only allowed “The Tank” to reach new heights as a footballer but also made him grateful to every club he has been on, regardless of the outcome. There are some teams that Yeimar considers more special than others but if one thing is certain, it’s that Sounders would take him to these new heights.
“I think the day I retire — and hopefully I retire here — I am always going to say, ‘look I got a national team call-up thanks to the Seattle Sounders.’ From the first day I arrived, I’ve always felt great here even if at times the language is not in my favor,” Yeimar said.
What should we expect from Yeimar during this call-up by Reinaldo Rueda?
It is honestly hard to predict what the Sounders centerback’s future is with Colombia. Yeimar is essentially replacing Everton defender Yerry Mina who was not considered for these upcoming World Cup Qualifiers due to a hamstring injury. If healthy, the chances of Gomez Andrade being chosen over Mina are not great but with this call-up, he does get an opportunity to become of option for players like Oscar Murillo (Liga MX’s Pachuca), William Tesillo (Leon of Liga MX ) or even a young John Lucumi (Genk of Belgium).
That is why it is likely that Yeimar gets some official minutes at least in the second game against Paraguay. If there is something Reinaldo Rueda has done since he took over Colombia is playing the players he brings in as potential candidates to spot. Timbers attacker Yimmy Chara is a good example. But Yeimar, true to his personality, is taking this unexpected call up in a very humble manner.
“As the new guy, I want to come in try to learn from those guys, who are older, have been part of the process and work hard as I have always done it when I go into a new team,” explained Yeimar.
Although he is not going in expecting to be one of the big dogs, as he has done throughout his life he wants to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff through his dedication, physical strength and willingness to help in any way the coach would need.
“I am prepared to come in right the way if my number is called,” he said. “I am ready because I’ve had consistency with my club, and I am in good shape physically and mentally. Now, if I don’t get to play at all I will just be thankful for the opportunity and take this whole experience in so if there is a second call up, I will be more ready and continue to learn.”
Yeimar Gomez Andrade is set to take off to join Colombia’s camp this Monday morning, a day after decision day, when Sounders takes on Whitecaps in Vancouver.