DOHA, Qatar – DeAndre Yedlin’s official position on the World Cup team is defender. Unofficially, he’s the U.S. men’s answer man.
With the Americans essentially starting from scratch after not qualifying for Russia in 2018, Yedlin is the only player on this year’s team who has played in a World Cup. Sean Johnson went to Brazil in 2014, but it was as part of a training camp squad ahead of the tournament. Several others played at various youth-level World Cups but, yeah, that’s not the same.
Which leaves Yedlin as the only font of World Cup knowledge for his teammates.
“There’s a queue of questions people have for DeAndre,” Tyler Adams, one of the team’s veterans in all other aspects, said Thursday.
Making Yedlin’s wisdom even more pertinent is that he was about the same age as his current teammates – just shy of his 21st birthday – at the 2014 World Cup. Even with Johnson, 33, and the 35-year-old Tim Ream skewing the average, the Americans have one of the youngest teams at this World Cup, at an average age of 25 years and 216 days.
“I went in not really knowing what to expect,” Yedlin said.
Unlike this squad, the 2014 team was veteran-heavy with players like Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Yedlin didn’t start the first group-stage game in Brazil, but came on as a substitute in the Americans’ final three games.
He helped set up Dempsey’s goal against Portugal and almost had another assist against Germany. He played most of the second half in the round of 16 against Belgium.
“I just kind of took it for what it is, tried to stay present,” Yedlin said. “That’s the advice I’ve offered to these guys as well, to try to stay present. It’s a journey. It’s an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
“Hopefully when they’re in their 80s and telling their grandkids about the World Cup, they’ll be able to remember it vividly.”
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Leading into the World Cup, Yedlin’s teammates most wanted to know about the atmosphere surrounding the tournament. How the games differed from others in terms of intensity and passion. Now that they’re in Qatar, Yedlin said they’ve asked how this tournament compares to the one in Brazil.
That’s hard to say, he said, because that World Cup was played across Brazil while this entire tournament is concentrated in and around Doha.
In 2014, the USMNT traveled more than 4,300 miles for its group-stage games, including an almost 4-hour flight to its game against Portugal in Manaus. At this World Cup, the farthest the Americans will go for a game is about 25 miles. They won’t get on a plane again or have to pack a suitcase until they’re heading home.
“The first day we got here, (coach Gregg Berhalter) told us, ‘Unpack your things. Put your books on the bookshelf, put your clothes in the drawers. Get comfortable here,’ ” Yedlin said. “Psychologically, that has a pretty positive effect on people, I think, because you can really settle down and feel as much at home as much as you can.”
That Yedlin is the one his teammates seek out for answers goes beyond his World Cup experience. He’s made more appearances for the USMNT, by far, than anyone else on the team. He’s been a phenom and a role player. He’s played in college, an academy, Europe and Major League Soccer. He was a teenager when he made his debut with the national team and is now a family man, with a fiancée and a 1-year-old daughter.
If a teammate has a question or is going through something, it’s safe to say Yedlin probably did, too, at one point.
“He’s a glue guy,” Berhalter said after he announced the Qatar roster. “He’s there for the team, creates atmosphere for the team. Sometimes he’s a shoulder to cry on or talk to, other times he’s a motivator.”
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Despite the questions, both from his teammates and about them, Yedlin said he’s not worried about the USMNT’s lack of experience at the World Cup. After all, it’s not as if the U.S. players are strangers to big games.
Christian Pulisic won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021, and Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest and Gio Reyna have all played in the high-stakes tournament. Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson have been in promotion and relegation battles at Fulham.
“They’ll be fine,” Yedlin said.
Of all people, he would know.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter: @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DeAndre Yedlin’s experience as important as his defense at World Cup