The sale of DeAndre Yedlin from Spurs to Newcastle this week puts the 23-year-old right back at an interesting juncture in his professional career, to say the least. Yedlin has now experienced life in the top American and English leagues, and with the move to Newcastle, will be playing in the Championship, England’s second division—and one that some pundits see as having talent levels and competition comparable to MLS.
It’s no secret that Jurgen Klinsmann would prefer USMNT players to be tested in the world’s elite leagues, particularly the Premier League and the Bundesliga, that to “settle” for stateside soccer. At Sunderland last season, Yedlin was in the Premier League but with a team in danger of relegation. Now, moved to the other team in one of the fiercest English rivalries, Yedlin is part of a team that is trying to get back in the Premier League. Many expect Newcastle will succeed in that, though they’re currently sitting in seventh-place in their new league, and will face second-place Brighton and Hove Albion (a team that’s been on the cusp of breaking through to the Premier League for several seasons now) this Saturday.
But would Yedlin be better served in MLS—perhaps returning to the Sounders team that sent him on to England—than in the Championship?
There’s an argument to be made for Yedlin being better served with the Sounders if he were to have been returned there rather than moved to Newcastle. The current group of top MLS strikers, including David Villa, Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco, and Ignacio Piatti, are arguably more dangerous than the strikers that Yedlin will square up against this year. Yedlin would be on a Sounders team that’s revitalizing thanks to new Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, and would be firing in crosses to the likes of Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris.
It doesn’t just have to be the Sounders, either. Looking up and down the MLS rosters, it’s hard to find a team that Yedlin wouldn’t improve as a right-back/right-wing option, if not as a first-choice right back.
But in Newcastle, Yedlin goes to a team managed by Rafa Benitez, who has won all that there is to win in European soccer. Last year, Benitez was at the helm of Real Madrid; it is good (if not unusual) fortune that a manager of his caliber was available when Newcastle came calling, actually accepted, and then stayed once the team was relegated to help them come back up. (It’s generally agreed upon by Premier League observers that Benitez came on too late in the season to lift last year’s Newcastle to at least 17th place.)
There’s also an expectation—though certainly not a guarantee—that Newcastle’s stay in the Championship will be a one-year blip, and that Yedlin would be back against what the Prem has to offer in years two through five of his five-year commitment. (Including, assuming they themselves don’t go down, an already epic rivalry with Sunderland given one more storyline it may or may have not needed.) There’s even an element of pressure-of-expectations weighing on Newcastle even beyond what Yedlin’s experienced in keeping Sunderland up.
And Newcastle appears to be committing to Yedlin with the transfer purchase, plus the shipping out of Daryl Janmaat to Watford. Newcastle, even with its history, isn’t a team that has the luxury of buying a $6 million right-back just to stockpile him as part of a platoon.
In most cases, MLS would likely better serve Yedlin’s development (not to mention his comfort level around his American teammates) than the Championship. But Newcastle is an exemplary exception to that—perhaps even, one could argue, the exception.