They’re best friends who have played on opposite sides of the fiercest rivalry in German soccer, but nothing’s been getting in the way of the Christian Pulisic-Weston McKennie bromance during the USA’s run to the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
Former Borussia Dortmund ace Pulisic and Schalke midfielder McKennie played a part in all four goals scored by the defending Gold Cup champions in the knockout rounds to set up the final, played against arch-rivals Mexico on Sunday.
Sadly for the American pair, their Gold Cup journey ended in a 1-0 defeat at Chicago's Soldier Field. But the summer of 2019 was another showing that on the pitch it has been poetry in motion between the pair, and there has been near perfect symmetry off it in the careers of two of US soccer’s brightest stars.
"We met at the first U14 national camp, where there was 80 kids or something," Pulisic told bundesliga.com, recounting the beginnings of his friendship with McKennie. "I’ve known him for so long, he’s a great guy."
Pulisic and McKennie - born three weeks apart, both 20 - played together at various levels in the US youth ranks, but it wasn’t until the 2017/18 campaign that they crossed paths at club level - in the Bundesliga.
Pulisic was enjoying his second full season as a professional, having left Pennsylvania Classics for Dortmund on a Croatian passport at 16 and made his debut in January 2017, aged 17.
By the time McKennie turned down a homegrown player contract with MLS outfit FC Dallas in favour of a move to Schalke in summer 2016, Pulisic had already written his name into the history books as the Bundesliga’s youngest foreign-born goalscorer - and won six USMNT caps.
When McKennie breathed Bundesliga air for the first time in May 2017, Pulisic was a bona fide star in the ascendant for club and country.
"He's a young sensation; a really humble kid," McKennie said of Pulisic. "He's fun to be around, but he's definitely a dedicated player.
“I’ve known him since I was like 13 or 14 years old. So we've kind of grown up in the system together. Different paths, obviously. He was always a star ever since he was a young kid. I was always the one shoved off to the side; had to find my way to come back in here."
Watch: Christian Pulisic, made in the Bundesliga
By a curious twist of fate, McKennie’s not-so-well-trodden path took him from his native Texas, to a US army base in Germany (his father was a military man), back to the States with Dallas and to Gelsenkirchen - situated roughly 22 miles from Dortmund as the crow flies, and home to Schalke.
He initially spent time with the U19s, but has not looked back since making his Bundesliga bow on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign.
The Texan racked up 22 Bundesliga appearances as the Royal Blues finished runners-up to record champions Bayern Munich the following season, and was a regular in the side throughout 2018/19, adding a first Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League goal to his debut effort for the Stars and Stripes against European champions Portugal in a November 2017 friendly.
McKennie faced Pulisic on four occasions in his first two full seasons in the German top flight, winning two and drawing one of their Revierderby meetings.
Between times, the duo would put aside derby hostilities for regular rounds of Fortnite, meals out and even Thanksgiving dinner.
Watch: Weston McKennie on playing against Pulisic in the Revierderby (spoiler: his third meeting ended in a 2-1 home defeat)
Pulisic’s summer 2019 transfer to English Premier League outfit Chelsea means the BFFs will have to rely primarily on Whatsapp for any future exchanges. Unless of course they’re on senior international duty with the USA – which is arguably where they produce their best work.
Pulisic and McKennie - 25- and nine-time US internationals respectively - have lined up in the same USMNT team in eight matches to date. As well as their five straight wins at the 2019 Gold Cup, the pair have combined for a further two victories. Their only defeat came in an international friendly against England at Wembley Stadium.
"Weston’s a really big dominant presence," explained Pulisic, who set up McKennie's match-winner in the Gold Cup quarter-final with Curacao. "He’s really good at winning balls. He wins everything. He’s also good with the ball, whereas I’m not as much of a ball winner but more of a creator and dribbler. I think [we’ve] worked really well together."
McKennie echoed his wing-man's sentiments: "It’s turned out the way I expected it to be. We’re pretty comfortable with each other. We know [our] movements. The chemistry is there between us."
For US coach Gregg Berhalter, there is no better double act to build his team around - even if they are, in his own words, "two completely different players".
"When you look at Christian, he’s a guy that can change a game with his skill, with his ability to find players, his ability to take players on and beat them one [on] one and deliver a final pass," said Berhalter, who earned his own stars and stripes in Germany as captain of Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich, and later whilst completing his A coaching licence at the renowned Hennes-Weisweiler Academy in Cologne.
"When you look at Weston, he’s a very physically dynamic player. When you talk about being able to break a man-oriented defense, he can do it single-handedly. When he gets the ball and starts running, players just can’t catch him."
McKennie's fleet of foot is reflected in his quickness of mind. Having overtaken countless peers and caught up with Pulisic on the career ladder, there's no telling how far his industrious legs will carry him. For now, the former Revierderby frenemies can go forth and conquer as one.
Dortmund defender Mats Hummels and ex-Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes and were the last example of two players on either side of the Ruhr district divide to successfully unite under one goal for their country when Germany won the 2014 FIFA World Cup – but they weren't best pals.
The USA's run to the Gold Cup final was the first major chance for American fans to see what the pair are capable of. It may not have worked out as planned on this occasion, but it is only the beginning of soccer's most beautiful friendship, which came alive in the Bundesliga.