With 2019 being undoubtedly his best individual season, Jackson Yueill of the San Jose Earthquakes is quickly becoming a top, young holding midfielder in the MLS. It’s something USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter certainly noticed as he played an important role in the United States’ tactics in their 1-1 tie versus Uruguay in early September. Utilising that experience, he certainly ended the 2019 campaign playing some of his best football.
Although 2019 ended without a playoff appearance, Yueill still turned heads with his quality, controlling the midfield in the second half of the season. He capped off with a quality goal versus Philadelphia Union in front of the Earthquakes supporters’ section. This scout report will explain Yueill’s role under the tactics of head coach Matías Almeyda. It will highlight Yueill’s strengths and weaknesses through a tactical analysis of his final three matches of 2019.
Movement off the ball
Let’s start off with the good stuff. A huge part of Yueill’s game which separates him from other MLS holding midfielders is his movement off the ball. His rapid movement and understanding of space to receive the ball is critical in San Jose’s ability to build possession. Similar to his USMNT teammate, Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig of the Bundesliga, Yueill seems to relish picking the ball up in tight areas. And he always has an idea of where he is going to play before receiving it, a major contributor to his above-average total passing accuracy of 88% for the 2018/19 season.
Yueill’s ability to read the game and create space with his movement was on display all season. Arguably the simplest example occurs here versus Seattle Sounders. Yueill has dropped deep to pull the Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz towards the left side the field. He quickly receives and passes back to the Earthquakes’ right centre-back, effectively pulling Ruidiaz away from the centre of the field. Next, Yueill recognises the hole he’s just created ahead of him, and checks into it.
Yueill is able to receive the ball in the central pocket and pass to his right-winger. This put San Jose on the front foot and begins an attack for the Earthquakes and bypassing four Sounder’s players.
Perhaps the best example of his ability to recognise and utilise open space came against Philadelphia Union in front of the Earthquakes supporters.
In this sequence, Yueill realises the centre forward Daniel Hoesen, formerly of Dutch superclub Ajax, has attracted the attention of four Union defenders. Recognising this, he makes a great 3rd man run into the box toward the gap between the Union centre-back and right-back.
Hoesen is able to turn and dribble to the end line and cut a pass back to Yueill who is in front of his Union defender and able to calmly finish just inside the near post. The difference in this sequence was Yeuill’s ability to anticipate Hoesen’s pass but also recognise the space where he could receive it.
Along with Yueill’s clear clever movement, his desire to be on the ball is evident in the positions he takes up. As a result, his positioning both offensively and defensively allow him to regularly receive the ball and play out of pressure in one or two touches. His constant shoulder checking and awareness of his teammates and the opposition is key in San Jose’s ability to possess the ball in all parts of the field.
This sequence from the match versus Seattle Sounder’s is a great illustration of how Yueill uses his awareness to find pockets of space to receive the ball. Here he’s taken up the space between the two Sounders players and is already scanning the field via a shoulder check. As a result, he is able to receive the ball opening up and going forward, preventing either Sounders player from dispossessing him. While it may seem a small detail, his ability to do this is what provides San Jose with the ability to build possession. Coupled with Yueill’s willingness to receive the ball and drive forward, he regularly starts their attacking sequences.
On the defensive side, Yueill is able to use his positioning in three ways. His ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball is going allows him to prevent counter-attacks, press teams at the right times, and defend well 1 v 1. He does so even while San Jose are in possession. As they into the opposition’s half Yueill will regularly slide from side to side, offering an outlet backwards to for attacking players under pressure. This positioning also typically puts him in great areas to prevent or at delay counterattacks if the San Jose Earthquakes lose the ball.
Here we see this exact situation. San Jose has just lost possession of the ball, and Seattle is looking to counter. Yueill has seven teammates ahead of him committed in the Sounders’ half chasing the ball. Here his positioning has placed him a good area to delay the Seattle counterattack. In this situation, if he steps too high, he will be dribbled by the Sounders player, leaving the remaining three players behind him to deal with the counter. On the contrary, if he’s further away, he can’t apply any pressure and the player on the ball can dribble freely at pace. Therefore, his spacing is great as he is applying enough pressure to delay the counter and allow his teammates to recover behind him and the ball.
However, head coach Almeyda also utilises Yueill in their defensive tactics, specifically in their pressing strategy. Often at times, Yueill is the player initiating the Earthquakes press from deep positions as the ball travels between opposing centre-backs. This requires not only precise timing from Yueill but also recognition from his teammates. As he goes to press, they must defend tightly to their marks in order to force longer passes or hopeful dumped balls over the top.
This was a tactic utilised versus Seattle as we see here. Yueill has gone to press and due to his timing, arrives just as the Sounders centre-back receives the ball. As the ball and Yueill travelled, his teammates have all gotten tight defensively to their marks. This results in a dumped ball from the Sounders centre-back and San Jose is able to recover the ball and build their possession.
If Yueill had been late to press, Seattle could have passed out of their pressure through their left-back or goalkeeper. However, because he arrives at the centre-back as the ball does, the player decides to release the ball forward and gives away possession.
While Yueill did impress with his ability on the ball, there is a flaw or two to his game. The most noticeable would have to be his long ball passing. While his ability to find the ball in great parts of the field is well above most of his MLS counterparts, unfortunately, his ability to punch balls is a bit lacking. It is not uncommon for him to spray passes over 25 yards inaccurately when looking to play from his own central position to a winger or full-back.
Even at times when he is accurate, the ball is not hit with enough pace and sticks in the air for far too long. This, in turn, allows teams to readjust and reorganise defensively. Ultimately, making it more difficult for San Jose to breakdown opponents in their attacking third of the field.
In this picture, we see a common situation for Yueill. He has done well to find the space and time on the ball between defenders and looks to drive a ball long. Even under minimal pressure, he overhits the pass and it results in a giveaway. As we can see here the Sounders defender has read the pass and is in the right place to win it.
Similar situations occur for Yueill throughout the three matches reviewed in this analysis. It appears he simply does not have the leg strength to play these long balls with the correct pace and weight. At times he gets the accuracy right but the length wrong or vice versa. Additionally, even when he does seem to get it right, the ball remains in the air for too long and allows teams to reorganise, rendering the pass significantly less useful.
At just 23 years of age coming off of his first full season in a starting role, Yueill is far from a finished product. This scout report has highlighted the attributes which have separated him as arguably a top young holding midfielder in the MLS. His cleverness to create space and move defenders has been crucial to his success.
That, combined with his defensive commitment to position himself in the correct areas, is certainly what drew the attention of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. If he can improve his long-range passing with both feet, and begin to really drive balls into those wide areas it will make him much more effective in that holding midfielder role. With the resumption of the 2020 season in the near future, he will certainly be a top young player to watch in MLS this season.