Six years after Jackson Yueill left Bloomington Jefferson High School for UCLA, he has achieved MLS success and wears the captain's armband on the United States' Olympic qualifying team.
But his Minnesota fan club remains, well, intimate.
"The fan club consists of my friends from Jefferson, just friends and family sending their best wishes," he said. "Not that big."
Maybe that will change some if Yueill's U.S. Under-23 team beats Honduras on Sunday in a CONCACAF tournament semifinal and reaches the Tokyo Summer Games.
The United States hasn't qualified since 2008, but now is just one result away after it beat Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and lost to Mexico in group play in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Each semifinal winner — Mexico plays Canada in Sunday's other one — goes to Tokyo, no matter the outcome of the tournament's final.
"Our first goal was winning the whole tournament," Yueill said in a video conference call with reporters on Thursday. "It wasn't just qualifying for the Olympics. It was to make a statement that U.S. Soccer and U.S. youth national teams can compete in these tournaments and win trophies."
His teammates and coaches voted him captain for the tournament, a decision that coach Jason Kreis called "the clear choice" after counting the ballots. He was selected sixth overall by San Jose in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after Minnesota United took UCLA teammate Abu Danladi first.
Yueill has become a dependable, steady, matured midfielder — he turned 24 last week — in San Jose coach Matias Almeyda's challenging and unique man-marking system. That system impressed Kreis and U.S. National team coach Gregg Berhalter, and is not that far from how the U.S. teams want to play.
Yueill has become a regular for Berhalter's teams as well, playing nine games for the senior national team since his debut in 2019.
Kreis calls Yueill an "incredibly hard worker" and "leader for this group on and off the field" whose experience and skill set developed under Almeyda make him "well-suited to the way we want to play."
Yueill calls the chance to wear national colors for the senior team and three different U.S. youth teams "amazing" and "so cool" and deems being voted captain for the Olympic qualifying tournament a confidence booster. He scored his team's opening goal in a 4-0 victory over Dominican Republic on Sunday.
"I take great pride in being named the captain," he said. "This team has a lot of important players with their clubs and they bring a lot of accountability to the team. It makes it pretty easy to keep the team motivated and moving forward."
He considers Wednesday's 1-0 loss to host Mexico a reminder of what's at stake now against Honduras with four teams and two Olympic spots left.
"We know we have only 90 minutes to play; we're not going to have any extra games to fall back on," Yueill said. "I think the team is really ready. That's why we're here: to qualify for Tokyo. That has been in our sights from the beginning … Representing the U.S. in any tournament is special, something to be with you the rest of your life. All the guys in this group are hungry for that. We missed out in the past."
If his team advances Sunday at 5 p.m. (FS1), Yueill and his teammates will play in Tokyo come July without any American or international fans. They won't be allowed to visit Japan because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"It's definitely unfortunate, but it's the world we live in at the moment," Yueill said. "Whether you can have fans or not, we'll still give our best and know they're cheering from a distance."
That will include cheering all the way from Minnesota and elsewhere, more so if the United States qualifies Sunday for a trip to Tokyo.
"Having the ties to Minnesota is always nice," Yueill said. "We want a lot of people to view us differently and view us as a contender in the world. That's one of our goals in this tournament, to make an impact and spread soccer throughout America and spread American soccer throughout the world. Hopefully each time, we get better and better and people will end up watching."