ASN Exclusive

Now confident and in form, Yow excited to see his career take off in Belgium

After playing at the U-17 World Cup, Griffin Yow struggled for playing time at DC United. But after three and a half seasons, he moved to Belgium and is showing signs of breaking out in Belgium with Westerlo. ASN's Brian Sciaretta with the story. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 17, 2024
10:10 AM

MIDWAY THROUGH the 2022 MLS season, Griffin Yow was stagnating at DC United struggling for playing time. He enjoyed some aspects of the organization, but he realized he needed to make a change if he was going to realize his potential. That summer he was able to secure a move to Westerlo and now 18 months later, he is finally seeing signs of a breakout.

Yow, 21, now believes he is able to take off in Westerlo after overcoming and injury and securing a spot in the starting lineup. His performances as of late support this belief. This past summer, the Clifton, VA native was Westerlo’s best player in the preseason, but a knee injury sidelined him until October 21, when he was finally able to make his season debut. In that game against RWD Molenbeek, Yow picked up where he left off when he entered the game in the 73rd minute and scored a stoppage time equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

“As soon as I got to Westerlo, they had a plan for me,” Yow told ASN. “It was immediate - we've identified your talent. You're a good player. You're going to train with the first team all the time and you're going to kind of adjust to the lifestyle here, being away from your family, living on your own and being in a different country, you're going to adapt to the playing style of the Belgian league and you're going to just play with the U-21s and get your confidence. I didn't come into Westerlo with the biggest amount of confidence coming off D.C.”

Yow has only kept up the pace since then and now in the Belgium’s First Division winter break, he has three goals and two assists in just 696 minutes over 10 appearances. While he is comfortable at all the positions across the front line, Westerlo has been utilizing him in his traditional right wing position.

Youth development is rarely linear and there are different paths players take to reach their potential. What has helped Yow is that Westerlo had a plan for him from day one, which involved a full season with the club’s U-21 team in 2022/23 while only sporadically playing with the first team. That was designed to get his confidence up to where it needed to be.

“The biggest thing was definitely the U-21 games,” Yow said of his development.

While at DC United, Yow never felt he was never given a clear direction of what he needed to do to break into the first team on a regular basis. Over his four seasons from 2019-2022, Yow only combined for 946 MLS minutes. His MLS debut came under Ben Olsen but the team was managed by Hernan Losada for Yow’s last season and a half. Coincidentally, Losada got the job at DC United based on his success managing Beerschot in Belgium's First Division.

Recalling his time there, Yow says he was always told to be patient but was never given anything specific in terms of a timeline or what he needed to do in order to get into the first team.

“I felt like personally that was a lot of what I was being told when I played for D.C., it was kind of just be patient,” Yow recalled. “The staff there was great to me. There were certain people and certain members of the staff that I thoroughly enjoyed working with. But a lot of it was just keep training and keep being patient. You can only kind of be patient for so long, especially when I wasn't seeing a ton of progress in the development for myself there. I felt I was just kind of stagnating there. It was definitely a difficult situation.”

“There were times at DC where I just didn't really feel valued very much,” Yow added. “Being that person at DC and that [young] player who doesn't really know anything, it was just in my head a lot. I was coming home from training and sitting in my car for two hours in my driveway just thinking, what's going on? Where can I be better? How can I improve? Do they like me? Do they care about me? All of these questions. I never really got answers to them, even what I would go and speak to the management. The players would give me answers. But when I would speak to the management, it was just kind of the same.”

But when he got to Westerlo, he was pleased with the improved communication from the highest levels.

“It's completely the opposite at Westerlo,” Yow explained. “Two weeks ago, I'm sitting having lunch by myself because I stayed after for an extra session for my knee from the injury that I had. And the owner came over and just sat down and had lunch with me and just is talking to me about how I'm feeling, what he sees out of me, what he wants, how he's happy with me, and just about my life outside of the field and just sitting and having lunch with me, having a long conversation. I think for a lot of players, if you ask them that really goes a long way.”

Now moving forward at Westerlo, Yow is optimistic for what 2024 has to offer. The club had a terrible start to the season and was winless in their first nine games. Eventually, there was a coaching change with Rik De Mil arriving. This gave everyone a clean slate and Westerlo finished 2023 with three wins and a draw in their final four games to climb out of the relegation zone and into midtable.

In the club’s last game before winter break, Yow scored the opening goal in a 3-0 win over Molenbeek and after the game was invited to lead the team’s cheer with the supporters.

“The fans are top notch,” Yow said. “They definitely have a liking for the American guys, me and Bryan [Reynolds] over there. They make us feel at home. It's a good combination because here in D.C., there's just a lot of distractions, in my opinion. That has nothing to do with the club. It has to do with it being my hometown team and me growing up around this area. There's a lot of places to go, a lot of friends here. Over in Belgium, it's boring, to be honest. But in a good way. It's a very good spot to focus, to just put my head down and work.”

Starting this weekend, the club will return to action with two games against two of Belgium’s historically strong teams in Club Brugge and Gent.

For Yow, his rise has also come at an important time for his international ambitions. He is eligible for the current U.S. U-23 team that will be participating in the 2024 Olympics Games in France. Yow last represented the United States at the U-17 World Cup in 2019 but was also part of a generation of American players who had their U-20 cycle in 2021 cancelled due to COVID.  

Thus far, Yow has not played with the U.S. U-23 team in either of its first two camps to prepare for the Olympics. He is on the radar, however, and U.S. national team head coach Gregg Berhalter told the media he wanted to call-up Yow for the current January camp (which is heavily represented with U-23 players and also includes U.S. Olympic coach Mark Mitrovic on the staff) but was denied a release from Westerlo. 

There are only two more U-23 camps remaining before the Olympics with the next one in March, and the second in June. Yow is heavily motivated to get an opportunity to prove himself to Mitrovic but he also knows that it will come down to his performances at Westerlo.

Because of that, he is not trying to put much pressure on himself, but he does consider it a top goal and he knows time is very limited to break into the U-23 team ahead of the summer. 

“It's definitely something that that pushes me massively,” Yow said. “It's something that I don't want to overthink about, or I don't want to go into every game, every training, and be like, this is the game where I need to show that I need to be on that roster because then you kind of psych yourself out. It's something that keeps just keeps pushing me to do the extra hour in the gym, to try and push myself and continue kind of on the path that I'm on now and not be satisfied, not just be happy when I score a goal. I'm happy we're winning games. I need to go full throttle and see and really push myself and make these big steps, because that is a huge goal for me.”

Post a comment