US Men’s National Team international Weston McKennie has completed a half century of Bundesliga appearances for Schalke. It’s the latest milestone in a career that has been fast-tracked to stardom in Gelsenkirchen.
In his first 50 games in Germany’s top flight, McKennie has proven to be an American revelation and, having answered almost all of the questions asked of him when he signed in 2017 at the age of 18, the one remaining is: How far can he go?
In the words of new Schalke head coach David Wagner, the 21-year-old has the potential to become one of the "top players at Schalke, and I think one of the top players in the Bundesliga in this position".
For now, let’s look back on the crowning moments of a career to date which has been more full throttle than fledgling.
May 20, 2017: 1-1 draw vs. FC Ingolstadt 04
When McKennie signed from FC Dallas’ Development Academy, there were questions as to how much time and work would be needed for Schalke to polish a rough diamond. It didn’t take long for the American to settle in the Ruhrpott and, after impressing as part of the Royal Blues’ dynamic U19s side at the time, he made his Bundesliga bow on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign.
Sporting Director Christian Heidel claimed the club "knew McKennie was ready for the Bundesliga" before he took to the field against Ingolstadt. While the first glance of his talents was fleeting in an 11-minute cameo off the bench, it was enough to peak excitement levels about the prospect of another talented Knappenschmiede graduate.
"Weston is a player who can help any team," Schalke’s famed academy coach Norbert Elgert said after the game. "He’s an exciting player for whom I predict an interesting future in professional football. But it’s difficult to say how quickly it will happen. And I don’t want to put him under pressure. He’ll get his chance to break in with the pros and in the next year or two."
November 14, 2017: 1-1 draw vs. Portugal
Less than a year later and the Texan earned his first international cap after being fast-tracked into the USMNT as part of a youthful revamp under Dave Sarachan. Not only that, he also marked his debut against reigning European champions Portugal by opening the scoring in a 1-1 draw.
Becoming the third youngest USMNT player to score on his debut and earning Man of the Match honours, it was a perfect introduction to life on the international circuit and another demonstration of his maturity.
The same could be said of his post-match interview in which he discussed the next generation of American prodigies’ desire "to turn the page and show the U.S. what the future holds". Thirteen games on from his debut, McKennie is now one of the first names on the team sheet, but more on that later.
UEFA Champions League debut
September 18, 2018: 1-1 draw vs. Porto
After underlining his versatility, dependability and credibility at the top level as Schalke ended the 2017/18 campaign second only to Bayern Munich - their best Bundesliga finish since the 2009/10 season - McKennie introduced himself on the continental stage with a trademark performance against Porto.
The American was a flurry of activity throughout Schalke’s opening group game, providing the link in midfield as a box-to-box man. His darting run beyond Porto’s defence allowed him to pick out Breel Embolo for the opener because McKennie is, in his own words, "a player who is less about his own glory, the glory of the team is more important.''
While the night ended in another 1-1 draw, it was his debut at Europe’s top table was a moment to cherish for McKennie and further proof of the hype behind him having real substance.
First competitive goal for Schalke
October 3, 2018: 1-0 win vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
It was at Europe’s top table a fortnight later in Russia’s capital that McKennie registered his first senior goal for the Royal Blues. Thirty-two matches in the making, it was well worth the wait when Schalke’s all-rounder rose above a crowded penalty area to score the winner in the 88th minute.
It was a goal that boasted so many of the qualities that make McKennie such a powerhouse in the middle of the park: Timing, determination and above all a bit of rough and tumble about it all. "Today was a dream come true for me, it was truly amazing," McKennie said after the game. "I don’t score a lot of goals, but I’m so pleased I managed to get one today."
Coincidentally, his first Bundesliga goal followed three days later when he again opened the scoring with a poacher’s finish from six yards, this time in a 2-0 win against Fortuna Düsseldorf. Those remain the only goals the American has scored in Royal Blue.
Watch: McKennie scores his first Bundesliga goal
Leading out USMNT
July 8, 2019: 1-0 loss vs. Mexico
Despite finishing 14th in the 2018/19 campaign with Schalke, McKennie was still deservedly heralded as one of the USMNT’s great hopes heading into the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, as with many of his milestones during the Royal Blues frustrating domestic campaign, McKennie’s big moment on the international circuit was also tinged with disappointment.
The Schalke starlet scored two crucial goals against Curacao and Jamaica in the knockout stages, but couldn’t prevent the USMNT losing to Mexico in the final - a game in which he had the "great honour" of captaining his nation for the first time.
"On the one hand, we can be proud of ourselves," he told reporters after the game. "We came to the tournament with a young team and played a lot of great matches. But as an athlete, you always want to win."
50th Bundesliga appearance
August 31, 2019: 3-0 win vs. Hertha Berlin
Coming into the 2019/20 campaign, McKennie was seen as a leading figure by many a Schalke supporter and for good reason. His combative style of play speaks to the heart and soul of the fans, the club and the local community - qualities he again put on display when he marked his half century of Bundesliga appearances with a typically lung-busting performance just three days after his 21st birthday.
McKennie’s stock certainly hasn’t fallen under new head coach Wagner, who was singing the praises of “an outstanding talent” outlining that “in the No.6 or No.8 position he has the mentality, a real working mentality that you need and he’s brave on the ball as well."
In his 50 games thus far, McKennie has experienced many of the pleasures and pitfalls of life in Germany’s top flight. With a rich foundation laid though, he has hopes for his third full season with Schalke. “I think this year is not like last year where I was a utility player [...] this year is better for me in understanding where I am and what my role is."
It may also give Bundesliga, Schalke and USMNT fans a better understanding of where McKennie is headed.