DeAndre Yedlin Leaving the Seattle Sounders and MLS in a Lurch

Seattle’s son DeAndre Yedlin appears to be leaving the hometown Seattle Sounders for AS Roma. Ambition. This is about ambition and the complicated intersection of corporate, personal and athletic ambition. MLS wants to grow as a league and needs personalities to market for better television deals. On the heels of his World Cup success, DeAndre Yedlin seems the perfect media-friendly and marketable megawatt star. However Yedlin is a supernova of soccer talent and, like any trained competitor, seeks the next challenge. Europe offers the traditional “next step” for talented American soccer players and Yedlin would join Donovan, Howard, Dempsey and Bradley as THE overseas American. Lastly, Soccer in the United States seems to finally be ascending to its rightful place in the forefront of the national consciousness and needs homegrown stars to anchor this growth.

I can’t hope to explore all of this in one post, so I am going to chew on this topic bit by bit. Today I present my personal angle to the DeAndre Yedlin to AS Roma news. Do I think this transfer is a good thing? No. I do not like it one bit. Yedlin leaving for Europe reinforces the idea that MLS is a mid-major, a farm league for the “better” leagues overseas.

Let me clarify that I honestly wish DeAndre Yedlin the best of luck. I am not responding to him as a person, but rather the idea of him as a player. If he can increase his earning while chasing a dream, more power to him. I wish everyone such fortune. I wish him the best of success and hope he becomes the starting rightback on a name brand European side competing deep into Champions League. That’d be great for him, but not so for MLS.

MLS is becoming relevant. The league was most popular for a brief time following the media explosion that accompanied the Beckham signing. That was an unsustainable windfall of attention dependent on one global icon and a long period of declining interested followed. Lately the league is gaining real popularity. MLS has developed a strong foundation of grassroots interest evidenced by new tv deals and rapid expansion. National team stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are returning, choosing to ply their trade at home. These two prodigal sons returning seemed to be a tipping point, the first evidence of MLS becoming a legitimate league. Now a young, bright, local star is choosing to ditch the league and it smarts. I have heard it argued that MLS has finally beaten the “retirement league” rap, that the league will no longer be defined by the likes of Henry and Beckham pasturing here. That narrative died when Dempsey and Bradley came back. They rocked the paradigm, but Yedlin complicates it. We shouldn’t be bickering about retirement home vs. nursery, we need to flip the script. How can MLS gain legitimacy if it still appears to be a feeder league for Europe?

MLS is intended to be a destination league. Not to sound jingoistic, but America has the money to do what she wants. We have the infrastructure, economy and population to grow a quality league. MLS just needs interest. Interest from the fans in bigger and bigger television deals and interest from prospective players, the kids choosing basketball or football right now. But Yedlin leaving proves that soccer belongs in Europe. A local kid playing soccer may’ve looked at Yedlin and thought, “One day I can play of the Sounders.” Does he now ask, “How soon can I use Seattle to jump overseas?”

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