PORTLAND — DeAndre Yedlin was a late scratch from Monday night’s Chipotle MLS Homegrown game in Portland, having made the sizable leap from an exhibition against the Portland Timbers under-23 squad to the league’s All-Star Game against European champion Bayern Munich here on Wednesday.
But for young Sounders forward Sean Okoli and the rest of the homegrown squad, Yedlin’s presence was still felt at Providence Park — and not just because of his cameo in the pre-match coin toss.
Yedlin is the shining example, the academy product who played on the World Cup stage, and a player linked with clubs as prestigious as Italy’s Roma in the weeks since the Cup ended.
“Everything has happened so fast for him in the past year and a half,” said Sounders teammate Sean Okoli, who played the entire second half of the 0-0 homegrown draw Monday.
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Few can identify as closely with Yedlin than Okoli. They were both born in King County – Yedlin went to high school at O’Dea, Okoli at Todd Beamer. They played on the same Sounders academy fields together.
Few more keenly understand just how difficult it is to follow the trail Yedlin has been blazing.
“I know it might not be the same for me,” Okoli said. “I know my path is different. I have to be patient and wait for my opportunities.”
Yedlin is living the dream.
Okoli is living the reality for most of these prospects, the ones climbing up the ladder, grinding for minutes, cherishing opportunities like the homegrown game.
Okoli was named to The Seattle Times all-area squad in high school and made all-ACC each of his three seasons at Wake Forest.
The 21-year-old forward made his Sounders debut on opening night, playing a part in Seattle’s late, winning goal against defending champion Sporting Kansas City. He scored his first goal during a U.S. Open Cup victory in June.
“With every young player, it’s just consistency, knowing what you’re going to get from him on any given moment of any given day,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said after practice last week.
“With Sean, you see those sparks, you see those level of performances that say, ‘Yeah, this is why he’s here.’ But there are times when he’s not quite at that level.”
Both his Jekyll and Hyde made appearances Monday.
He was aggressive in taking on defenders, bulling into them with his broad shoulders — but often lost the ball. The 6-foot-1 forward made steady runs up the seam but few of them were spotted by teammates.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Okoli received a pass near the top of the box. He played a quick give-and-go with San Jose’s Tommy Thompson and burst into the empty space behind the Timbers back line.
Okoli was alone one-on-one with goalkeeper Justin Luthy and the ball at his feet – but a flag was raised, a whistle blown.
Okoli had been too eager with his run, triggering the offside rule and pulling play back.
“I was ready,” he said. “I was ready for it. But I also saw the offside flag.”
Being patient isn’t always easy.