Over the past year, he earned multiple call-ups to the US Men’s U-18 team where he participated in the 2015 NTC Invitational and the Copa Chivas. He made the cut again for the U-20 team where he played in the 2015 Four Nations Tournament in Germany. At the same time, he had a highly successful freshman season at UCLA, winning honors and accolades along the way. Then, just this past weekend, Jackson Yueill’s name was called once again by the national team, this time as the U-20s prepare for next year’s FIFA World Cup.
Since youth, Bloomington, Minnesota native Yueill was often left in the shadows of friend and teammate Mukwelle Akale. Akale, who currently plays in Villarreal’s youth system, would often be talked about by Minnesota youth coaches as the next up and coming player. It was Akale who would often grab the headlines and for good reason. Yet Yueill was a good player in his own right. He put his head down, continued to work hard and improve year after year as he played for the Minnesota Thunder Development Academy teams. There, you could often find Jackson training with Mukwelle’s father, Ralph, or with his own father Mark, who also spent plenty of time coaching Mukwelle. Jackson was clearly growing into a talent in his own right.
Yueill received his first call up to a US youth national team as a U-14 but struggled to get called back until 2014. Afterward, his name was called regularly for the U-18s. Not only was Jackson a good attacking midfielder he was also versatile, playing defensively if needed. Yet for Yueill, recognition and attention were still hard to come by.
In 2015, Yueill made his way to UCLA for his freshman season. Talk amongst top Minnesota soccer coaches said Yueill had the talent and would really like to go pro. They also felt he still needed a year or two to develop before making the big jump. However, most shared the belief that he wouldn’t last more than two years before moving to MLS.
Yueill’s decision to attend UCLA was partially based on strategy but also what the midfielder saw when he visited the PAC-12 school. “Being from Minnesota it was sort of hard,” explained Yueill. “There aren’t really many scouts around here [Minnesota] because we have no Division I college programs. You don’t really get looked at. California and LA especially is a really competitive place. There are a lot of soccer people out there. That’s what I was looking for. In California, Florida, and Texas there dozens of scouts watching each game you play in. I think the regional aspect really plays a role in your own recognition and even your growth as a player. But when I was looking at schools, I thought UCLA played the best soccer. That’s really what influenced me the most to play there.”
The choice ended up being a good one for Yueill. He started out the 2015 UCLA season a bit slow but gained in confidence rapidly. Within a short while, Yueill’s name was on numerous lists for top college freshman. He played in 20 games, made 18 starts and scored seven goals with six assists in 1,560 minutes. He was an All-Pac 12 selection and made Top Drawer Soccer’s Freshman Best XI. He was named to the NSCAA All-Far West team and when the MLS SuperDraft came around in January of this year, he was on a number of lists as a player that could receive a Generation Adidas contract.
“You’re stepping into a new team where you are the youngest guy which is hard at first. But the coaches believed in me.”
“I really think that for me, college was a great choice. It’s helped me mature and understand the game better from a leadership role,” said Yueill. “I think overall it helped my confidence. That might have been the biggest part of the year for me. You’re stepping into a new team where you are the youngest guy which is hard at first. But the coaches believed in me. Even if I did something wrong they’d keep pushing me, kept playing me. As the season progressed my confidence really grew. It’s helped me mature and understand the game better from a leadership role. That definitely helped me mature more, as a player but also as a person.”
Yueill is explosive in his first step, athletic, and has a solid first touch. At 5’10” and 155 pounds, he isn’t large by any means. Yet watching him on the field he’s strong and appears bigger than he is. He holds the ball well and is rarely dispossessed. “I don’t know what you’d even call that,” Yueill reflected. “Maybe soccer strong? If you look at guys like Messi or Iniesta, they aren’t very big. But they have the type of strength you need for soccer. My positioning off a defender is something I can do well and it allows me to hold the ball, even against bigger guys.”
“If you look at guys like Messi or Iniesta, they aren’t very big. But they have the type of strength you need for soccer. My positioning off a defender is something I can do well and it allows me to hold the ball, even against bigger guys.”
Yueill says he sees himself as a number 10 because attacking “is his favorite thing to do.” But more often than not you will see him in the number 8 role as a defensive midfielder and transitional player. “For the US I almost always play the number 8 or sometimes you can find me wide on the left if we are playing a 4-4-2. I’ll be on the outside of that midfield diamond. In college, I play the 8 as well,” explained the UCLA sophomore.
According to Yueill, the biggest improvements he saw in himself this past year was his mindset and how he approached each game. “In college, the stakes are much higher. In the past, to be honest, I probably would take a game off [mentally] here and there. In college, everyone is expecting things from you. You learn that you have to try as hard as you can in each and every game and play to your full potential,” Yueill said. “It’s really a stepping stone for me to take it to the next level.
What might that next level be? Yueill says he’s ready to move on after this season with UCLA and would love to sign a contract with either MLS or a European team. “I think next year will be a good year to transition to the pros,” Yueill said. “Since I’ve been a child I’ve dreamed of playing professionally. Given the opportunity, I’d definitely have to take it.”
Despite his decision to go pro after this season, Yueill said he has even more incentive to play well this fall. “Last year I think I was ranked pretty high, but a lot will depend on my performance this year.”
If Minnesota United do not join MLS in 2017, Yueill would likely receive a GA contract and be selected in the first round of the SuperDraft. If the Loons do join MLS next year, they could potentially snatch the midfielder from other MLS teams by proclaiming him a HomeGrown player.
Minnesota United Sporting Director Manny Lagos wouldn’t comment on when the team was moving to MLS or if there was interest in Yueill. He did praise the young Minnesotan. “I think he’s really one of the better up and coming American players, particularly central or even wide at midfield,” said Lagos. “He’s had a couple of really good years with the youth national team setups and he had a great year at UCLA. We are certainly excited when we see a local player going out there, playing well and considering staring his pro career.”
“I definitely think playing for Minnesota would be very cool – in my own hometown.”
“If [Minnesota United] were able to sign me as a HomeGrown player or whether I’d go into the SuperDraft, I’m just not sure,” explained Yueill. “That’s a talk I’ve had with my dad as well as a few others and I haven’t really figured everything out yet. But I definitely think playing for Minnesota would be very cool – in my own hometown.”
The UCLA freshman finished school on June 10th and immediately flew over to trial with Sweden’s Jönköpings Södra IF which was set up by a friend of his father, who lives in Minnesota. J-Södra is in the top-flight Allsvenskan after being promoted last season from the second flight Superettan. They recently defeated Malmö FF but sit 11th in a 16-team table with a 2-6-3 record.
Yueill was in Jönköping for 8 days and only returned to his Bloomington home on June 21. He admits to being very nervous going in, but by the end of his stint with Södra his confidence lifted seeing that he fit in with the players on their team. “It was very competitive but I was definitely able to play at that level,” said Yueill of his trial. “Everyone there is, of course, fighting for a paycheck. Going in I wasn’t really sure, but it went alright. I’ve not really trained with any first teams, especially a European team.”
”I think being in a European professional environment would be very beneficial and definitely expand my knowledge and level of the game. I would definitely consider it if they offered me a contract. It would also open more doors for me with other European teams, which would be great for my career,” reflected Yueill.
What’s next for the Minnesota midfielder? Currently, Yueill is in Carson, California with the US U-20s along with his old Minnesota teammate and friend Mukwelle Akale. They both hope to get minutes in the three games they will play in the 2016 Men’s NTC Invitational which runs from June 26-July 4.
“It’s always an honor to be called up to the national team. We are getting closer and closer to the qualifiers [U-20 WC] in 2017. The closer it gets the list of people getting called up gets very cutthroat. It’s hard to keep making that list. So far I’ve continued to get called up. I think that if I continue to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and keep improving, I’ll continue to get invitations.”
After the US camp, Yueill hopes to fly home to Minnesota where he would like to do some training with Minnesota United in the month of July. In early August he’ll be back at UCLA for preseason camp. “My summer at home in Minnesota this year is going to very short,” laughed Yueill. That’s something the young Minnesotan will have to adapt to quickly if he signs a pro contract this coming year. One thing seems for certain with Yueill, he’s worked his way into the public’s eye and he’s not going back.
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