Who is Weston McKennie: Schalke's NextGen star?
Weston McKennie is at the forefront of a new wave of potential world-beating US soccer talent. bundesliga.com has the lowdown on Schalke's young midfield ace...
Position: Central midfielder
Country: USA (19 caps/ six goals)
Born and raised in Little Elm, Texas, McKennie moved to Germany at the age of five due to his father's job in the US military. He returned to the US prior to his teen years, spending his formative days in the FC Dallas academy, whilst representing various US youth teams along the way, captaining the U19s to glory in the 2016 Slovakia Cup. Schalke made their move in summer 2016, initially signing the 6'1" midfielder to their U19s team. He registered four goals and as many assists in his maiden youth campaign on German soil, earning a Bundesliga debut on the final day of the 2016/17 season for his efforts.
McKennie has scarcely been out of the senior side since. The Texan has made over 80 competitive appearances for the Royal Blues, bringing up a half-century of Bundesliga outings in a 3-0 win over Hertha Berlin in August 2019. His first competitive goal at club level fell in a UEFA Champions League win against Lokomotiv Moscow in October 2018, making him the second youngest American (20 years, 37 days) to find the net in the competition, after Christian Pulisic. He opened his Bundesliga account three days later in a 2-1 triumph over Fortuna Düsseldorf, adding a second to his tally against Hoffenheim on Matchday 25 of 2019/20.
Watch: Weston McKennie put on a first-half midfield clinic against Hoffenheim
In 19 USMNT outings, McKennie has scored six times, including on his debut against Portugal and a 13-minute hat-trick in a 7-0 rout of Cuba in the CONCACAF Nations League. The latter ranks as the fastest hat-trick from the start of a match in USMNT history, with his 30th-second opener the second quickest ever. He captained his country for the first time in their 2019 Gold Cup final defeat to Mexico, and has been nominated for the US Men's Player of the Year twice. Statistically, he is one of his club and country's hardest-running players, regularly breaking the six-mile-per-game mark.
Plays a bit like: Arturo Vidal
"I'm the best defensive midfielder in the world. No one defends as well as me and scores so many goals," Arturo Vidal said before spending three decorated years with Bayern Munich between 2015 and 2018. Back then, thee was no disputing it - but now there's a new kid on the block.
A true midfield warrior, McKennie breaks down opposition attacks and wins back possession in his sleep, unafraid of the physical battle. He's also heavily involved going forward, his high-energy style allowing him to pose a threat in the opposition penalty area, and can deliver the goods as a No. 6, 8, or 10. All Schalke's star-spangled all-rounder needs now is a mohawk...
Did you know?
McKennie turned down an MLS Homegrown Player contract with FC Dallas and a full college scholarship at the University of Virginia in favour of a move to Schalke.
"I made the right decision and I don't regret it at all," McKennie recalled. "It wasn't easy for me to let go of FC Dallas. But you've got to think, will I look back in 10 years and wish I could've gone over to Europe? I feel like if you can make it there, you can come back over here and play at a high level. But if as a kid you go into MLS and then try to come over to Europe, you might not be ready."
What they're saying
"He's an outstanding talent. 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. He can be one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga." - Schalke coach David Wagner
"Weston is a unique individual. He's shown how versatile he can be at the top level, and how important to the team he is." - USA coach Gregg Berhalter
"If you lose the ball, you know he's going to be the first one running [to get] the ball. He's a leader and that's something I can learn from - everyone can learn from to up their game." - USA teammate Reggie Cannon
Keep an eye on...
Schalke are not short of young prospects like McKennie. Goalkeeper Markus Schubert has emerged as a genuine contender for the No.1 jersey in 2019/20, with Alexander Nübel set to join Bayern at the end of the campaign. The Germany U21 international boasts better numbers than the more senior Schalke custodian for saves per match, shots repelled with his hands and long-pass accuracy.
It helps having a defender of the ilk of Ozan Kabak marshalling the defence. The 19-year-old Turkey international experienced relegation in his short stint with VfB Stuttgart in 2018/19, but has put in some towering displays when fit for Schalke, winning roughly 71 per cent of his attempted challenges, finding a man with 88 per cent of his passes and chipping in with a handful of goals.
A back injury means Kabak won't play again in 2019/20, but Rabbi Matondo could yet make a telling contribution to the Royal Blues' push for Europe. The former Manchester City youngster is enjoying his second season of Bundesliga football, and opened his account at the eighth time of asking in the 3-1 win at RB Leipzig on Matchday 7. Quick, nimble and a goal threat, the 19-year-old could be the natural attacking wide player Schalke have been crying out for.
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