In the first three minutes our captain hit the post off a corner. Then two minutes later I made a run out wide and gave our top goal-scorer time to hit a shot outside the box. It smashed the crossbar and looked to have bounced across the line and back out again, but the refs waved our objections away. A minute later I put our striker through on goal for a breakaway. Their keeper came up with a great save and the score was left 0-0 despite all of our great chances.
Halftime came around and we were losing. Darren explained that, had we finished our first three opportunities, the game would be over. I was playing well, but angry and disappointed I hadn’t done more. Darren made four subs at the half. We only had four other subs, which meant I was going to play for the rest of the game.
Before stepping on the field for the second half, I thought to myself, again, two months ago I wasn’t even on the roster. Now I’m playing a full 90 against another top MLS side. After the game, which we eventually lost, Darren spoke to us again, his words still ringing in my ears.
“The purpose of this program is to build professionals. Yes, we want to win, but more importantly we want to develop you. We need to learn the lessons of this weekend and to further the teams improvement and the individual improvement of all of you. To become a pro you have to be consistent, understand the game, out work your opponent, have the technical ability, and emotional stability. Today they had more of each of these components.”
The loss hurt all of us. We still had a chance to make the playoffs, but we dug ourselves a small hole. However, Darren’s words told us that we still had a shot not only to make playoffs, but also become professionals, the goal of the entire team.
Two days later Belgium was playing the United States in the World Cup round of 16. Fabian Johnson, the right back for the United States, pulled up with a hamstring injury and DeAndre Yedlin was put in his place. I texted Darren a simple “Go Yedlin.” What an amazing journey he’s had over the past two years. Two summers ago he was playing for the U23 Seattle Sounders team and now is playing against arguably one of the best teams in the world at the World Cup. Darren texted me back, “You have earned my respect Zev. With belief and hard work maybe you can be the next Yedlin.”
I responded quickly with my heart beating fast. “Yes, that has been my goal for a long time.” He reiterated that belief is the key to achieving even your most wildest of dreams. I took a picture of the texts. I will savor them forever.
I have been wanting to play for this U23 side since the moment we had our first training session. However, I just as much wanted Darren’s respect. I respected him so much, regardless if he played me or did not play me. He tells you how it is and truly wants everyone around him to succeed, from the kit man to the other players, to the other coaches. I knew earning his respect would not be easy, which was all the more reason I wanted it. When I received that text, I felt honored. I deserved it, I had earned it, and I was not going to waste it.
I think it is Darren’s personality, coaching, and wisdom and that of which he instilled in the Seattle Sounders youth program that has helped 16 players from the U23 team sign pro contracts. I think it is a major reason why DeAndre Yedlin is where is. Darren coached Yedlin with the Sounders throughout his youth career and at the U23 level. Darren can see the big picture. As much as he wants to win every game he understands that he has done his job well if he is producing talent. To produce talent you must produce winners and there’s no one better at it. I look forward to be added to the list of players who signed pro after playing with the U23 team.
At the time of this writing, we have four more games to play. I don’t know what my role in them will be. I’m confident in my ability because of what Darren has taught me and will continue to teach me. I hope to play for him when I’m a professional. I know I’ll go professional. I don’t know with who, where, or how, but it will happen. Belief is the key. It is the belief I have in myself that helped me go from not being on the roster for this Seattle Sounders U23 team to starting and playing a whole game. There are many more steps to take. I am not satisfied. But I must look at the big picture and mentally record my accomplishments, so when another challenge comes my way, I’ll know anything is possible.
Seattle Sounders U23