DENVER — Life had always moved fast for DeAndre Yedlin, the U.S. national soccer team’s swift right back.
Two years of college had given way to a contract with the hometown Seattle Sounders. Four months after his national team debut, he was, at age 20, chasing Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup.
Two seasons in MLS precipitated a $4 million transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
By late last summer, though, Yedlin confronted a stark reality: To go forward in his career, he would need to go back.
Returning from a season-long loan with Sunderland, he realized he didn’t have a future at Tottenham.
There was opportunity at Newcastle United, Sunderland’s ancient rival in provincial northeast England. The Magpies, however, had fallen out of the Premier League, relegated to the second-flight circuit known as the Championship.
“At first,” he admitted this week, “I didn’t like the idea of going down a league.”
True, Yedlin wouldn’t play in the Premier League, but he would join a fabled club. And most importantly for a young player in need of minutes, he would play regularly.
Sunderland had fancied him for a permanent transfer, but the asking price was too rich for its tastes. So Tottenham sold him to Newcastle for more than $6 million.
“I know a lot of people would question what I did, the risk I took, but I felt it was the necessary step in my career,” he said.
And, he added, “It paid off.”
With Yedlin earning rave reviews, Newcastle won the league trophy and restored its place in the Premier League. Accordingly, Yedlin, 23, will also return to the top tier.
“We went up,” he said, “and that was the objective all along.”
In the aftermath of a championship campaign, Yedlin returned stateside last month to begin preparing for a pair of 2018 World Cup qualifiers. He stayed in shape by training with the Sounders, then reported to U.S. camp for resumption of a nervy qualifying effort and his first assignment under new Coach Bruce Arena.
After missing the March qualifiers with a hamstring injury, Yedlin is the top candidate to start on the right corner against last-place Trinidad and Tobago here Thursday and against first-place Mexico on Sunday at Azteca Stadium.
“He’s an improved player,” Arena said. “He’s still a young player. He’s got a way to go, but athletically he’s very good. Now he has to learn to be a player who just doesn’t count on the fact that he’s fast. He’s got to be a little better mentally on the field. His year at Newcastle has been good for him.”
To say the least.
Although he dropped a division, Yedlin found himself at a big club with a billionaire owner and ambitions to return to the Premier League within a year. Newcastle plays at St. James’ Park, which, with a 52,000-seat capacity, is one of the largest venues in England. It’s typically full. Fans in large numbers crisscross the country for away matches.
Unlike divided loyalties in London, Manchester and Liverpool, the city of Newcastle almost explicitly supports the Magpies. Someday, they’ll reward their hearty fans: The last first-division title came 90 years ago, the last FA Cup trophy in 1955.
“The passion,” Yedlin said, “is like no other place in the country.”
The region’s passion carries 12 miles down the coast to Sunderland, as well. Swapping Sunderland red (even though he had been on loan) for Newcastle black did not go over well in some quarters.
“It was mostly on social media,” he said. “I’d see Sunderland fans in the streets; they haven’t been bad to me. There will be the occasional fan asking why I would go to Newcastle. I don’t expect them to understand. It’s my career and I had to make a choice.”
By midway in the season, he had won a regular starting job for Manager Rafael Benitez, an UEFA Champions League winner in 2005 guiding Liverpool.
The Championship division is loaded with U.S. players, including Fulham defender Tim Ream. Although they didn’t face one another in the clubs’ two meetings this season, the national team figure kept tabs on Yedlin over the course of the season.
“His game definitely suits the Premier League more than the Championship,” Ream said. “The Championship is much more physical and up and down, and DeAndre has that up and down in his legs. He made the adjustment quick and settled in really well.”
While he excelled with the club, Yedlin also began building a relationship with the new U.S. staff. Early this year, assistant Kenny Arena, Bruce’s son, paid a visit and spelled out what was expected of him. Kenny Arena was no stranger; while an UCLA assistant, he had tried to recruit Yedlin, who ended up at Akron.
For Yedlin, it was a national team rebirth of sorts after falling out of favor with Jurgen Klinsmann. Arena’s predecessor had publicly criticized Yedlin for subpar performances in consecutive camps last fall and questioned his decision to play in a lower pro division.
Yedlin also owes a lot to Klinsmann, who provided an opportunity before the 2014 World Cup. Without it, European clubs wouldn’t have taken such keen interest in him three years ago.
After two previous stops in England, Yedlin relishes not only the return to the Premier League, but the chance to make long-term plans with a team — he has four years left on his contract — and a city that he has grown to love.
“There’s something to be said for not worrying about the next move,” he said, smiling. “It’s good to finally be settled in one place and hopefully for a long time.”
United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago
Where: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
When: Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern.
TV: FS1, UniMas, Univision Deportes.
Online: Fox Sports Go, Univision Now, univisiondeportes.com, foxsoccer2go.com
(Through four of 10 matches)
Mexico 3-0-1, 10 points
Costa Rica 2-1-1, 7 points
Panama 1-1-2, 5 points
United States 1-2-1, 4 points
Honduras 1-2-1, 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago 1-3-0 3 points
Thursday’s other matches
Honduras at Mexico, 10 p.m. (FS1, UniMas)
Panama at Costa Rica, 10 p.m. (beIN Sports)