USA international midfielder Weston McKennie admits he has made progress beyond his wildest dreams in the Bundesliga with Schalke.
McKennie joined Schalke in August 2016, initially spending time with the U19s team, but has not looked back since making his Bundesliga debut on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign. The Texan turned out 22 times in the league as the Royal Blues finished runners-up the following season, and has been a regular in the side throughout 2018/19.
Still only 20, he is just eight games short of his Bundesliga half century.
"It's been a dream come true," McKennie told ESPN’s Raphael Honigstein of his accelerated development at Schalke. "It’s been a lot different than I thought. I thought I’d have to work really hard to get playing time in my first season and then maybe my second season get more playing time, but I got a lot more playing time than I thought I would last year. I got a lot of trust from the staff, and then this year I’m getting even more playing time. I guess it worked in the right way."
McKennie has made 54 first-team appearances for Schalke all told, with six falling in this season’s UEFA Champions League. He became the eighth American to score in the continental club competition and second youngest after US teammate Christian Pulisic with his winner against Lokomotiv Moscow during the group stage, and helped himself to his first ever Bundesliga goal in a 2-0 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf three days later. He has also earned seven senior USA caps in his short time in Gelsenkirchen - not that he views himself as the finished article yet.
"I think I’ve arrived a bit more, but I don’t think I’ve arrived fully," McKennie said of his performances in 2018/19, which have seen him line up as a right-back, centre-back, central midfielder, attacking midfielder and second striker. "I fight, I go into tackles, go into headers. I do everything I can. I don’t really give up on a play until it’s over."
Watch: Relive Weston McKennie's maiden Bundesliga goal
McKennie’s never-say-die attitude will come as welcome news for Schalke fans. Despite finishing second behind Bayern Munich last season, the Royal Blues are currently languishing down in 15th place, just three points above the relegation play-off spot with only eight rounds of fixtures remaining. What is more, they are winless in their last eight league games.
"When things aren’t going well, it’s a professional player’s nightmare," admitted McKennie of Schalke’s plight. "Knowing the people that you play for, to not be able to give them points is like not being able to give a kid a Christmas gift on Christmas. The fans feel it if you’re not willing to give everything you have - but that’s not the person I am. If I’m sick or injured, I’m still going to try and give everything I can until I can’t give any more."