San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill has always been lauded for certain qualities on the soccer field. An intelligent, decisive passer, Yueill is arguably the Quakes’ best short- and long-range distributor, capable of switching the play or sending a forward through on goal. He hadn’t earned the same reputation for being a goal-scorer, however, at least until last Saturday.
Selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Yueill had previously left his mark with UCLA and the United States Youth National Team system. He opted to turn pro after just two seasons with the Bruins, in which he tallied nine goals and 17 assists in 40 appearances for one of the nation’s most prestigious collegiate programs.
Yueill, now in his third season as a professional, recently turned 22 years old. He’s played in 39 MLS matches to date and will almost certainly hit 2,500 career minutes in his next appearance. He also recently competed for the U.S. U-23s and should remain in the conversation as they prepare for the 2020 Olympics.
Saturday was a major milestone in his MLS career, as Yueill found the back of the net for the first time. Receiving a short pass from the left wing, Yueill realized his space and calmly curled a skipping shot around Joe Willis and into the side netting. The brilliant strike was later nominated for MLS Goal of the Week. He had scored once prior in a U.S. Open Cup match against the SF Deltas, which came just four minutes into his Quakes debut on June 14, 2017, but never in MLS competition.
“The goal, for me, was awesome,” explained the Bloomington, Minnesota native. “We were down 1-0 so it was nice to help the team get back even.”
Yueill was a substitute three times and an unused substitute once through the first four matches of the season. He was selected as a starter for the first time on April 6 after Brazilian midfielder Judson was kept out of action due to a leg injury. Yueill helped the team to their first victory against the Timbers and come up just short the following week against the Dynamo.
“When [head coach Matias Almeyda] told me I was starting [against Houston], I was very thrilled. For him to have confidence in a young player like me is always reassuring.”
Yueill has a week-to-week challenge for minutes, with a slew of players at his position. Veterans Judson and Anibal Godoy, as well as youngsters Luis Felipe and Eric Calvillo, mean playing time is never a certainty.
“There’s a lot of good players in the midfield, which only helps the team. You can cycle a lot of players through but also creates good competition during trainings. You can’t take a day off or someone will come in and do it for you.
“He believes in everyone on the team so it’s an opportunity. It doesn’t matter how many years you played or what you have, if you play well and play hard, you’ll get your chance. He’s given me my chance and hopefully I make the most out of it.”
Yueill certainly played well enough to capture the attention of his head coach, who acknowledges there is even more room to grow for the 22-year-old central midfielder.
“He is a young player that must keep developing,” explained Almeyda on Wednesday afternoon. “He understands what we’re looking for and he must keep improving. For me, he is set to play. He has a great shot from long distance. He is a player that can play a ball from 40 to 50 meters with precision. His short and long play is good. Our system requires that type of sacrifice to run and fight to recover the ball when we are not in possession. If you watched the game, there was a moment in one of [Houston’s] goals in which he should have committed a foul to break up the counter attack, and these can all be lessons. He brings quality to our offense; he connects well with Magnus [Eriksson] and Danny [Hoesen]; and can play long balls to our wingers. We need to take advantage of him. I need him to be more involved and have better possession on the pitch.”
It remains to be seen who Almeyda will select on a week-to-week basis, but it’s certainly a position battle worth keeping an eye on.