Weston McKennie's No.2 shirt was traditionally associated with right-backs, but the Schalke youngster has played - and impressed - all over the pitch for club and country. - © 2018 DFL
Weston McKennie's No.2 shirt was traditionally associated with right-backs, but the Schalke youngster has played - and impressed - all over the pitch for club and country. - © 2018 DFL

What is Weston McKennie's best position for Schalke and the USA?


If variety is the spice of life, then it is safe to say Schalke's Weston McKennie is enjoying a distinctly Habanero-esque existence, having had stints in defence, midfield and also in attack for the Royal Blues.

But what is his best position on the field? bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the options for the USA international, who recently agreed a new deal to keep him at the club until 2024.

The 20-year-old former FC Dallas youth player made his Bundesliga debut as a late substitute in left midfield on the final matchday of the 2016/17 season against Ingolstadt and operated in a more defensive midfield role in his 13 Bundesliga starts in 2017/18.

While his shirt number would suggest he plays in defence, Weston McKennie can just about play anywhere. - imago/Jan Huebner

Weston McKennie shining at centre-back?

So far, so normal for a player trained in that particular position. The first signs of change arrived in January 2018 when Schalke coach at the time Domenico Tedesco experimented with McKennie at centre-back in a friendly with Genk during the winter break. He played the entire second half in the middle of a back-three and helped his side to a 2-1 win.

"We've been wanting to try him out in central defence for a while," Tedesco said afterwards. "He's good in the air, strong and up for anything." While that may have been a successful trial run, it was not until the 2018/19 season that McKennie played in defence in a competitive game against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 2.

He went the full 90 minutes on the right-hand side of a back three with Naldo and Salif Sane, and although Schalke lost 2-0, McKennie's performance was more than respectable. For example, he won 80 per cent of his aerial duels, despite being an inch shorter at 6'1" than Hertha striker Vedad Ibisevic.

Watch: McKennie scored his first Bundesliga goal against Fortuna Düsseldorf in 2018/19

Back where he belongs at defensive midfield?

McKennie was back in defensive midfield in his next games, against Porto in the UEFA Champions League and subsequently in the Bundesliga against Bayern Munich and Mainz. And although this is arguably his preferred position, he sees less of the ball (40.4 touches per game), completes fewer passes (69.9 per cent) and fewer sprints (19.4) than when he plays elsewhere.

Compare that to when he is played in a more advanced role. Suddenly he has more of the ball (54.6 touches), completes more passes (78.6 per cent) and makes more sprints (25.2). This was the case against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 7, a game in which he scored his maiden Bundesliga goal to open the score in a 2-0 win.

Indeed, that goal arrived just three days after McKennie netted his first-ever Champions League goal, scoring a last-gasp winner away to Lokomotiv Moscow. His position in that game? Again, a freer central midfield role.

His only other goal at senior level likewise came from this position, when he found the net on his senior international debut against Portugal in November 2017.

"Weston's important for us for more than just his goals," said Tedesco. "When things weren't going so well for us, he embodied a lot of the things we stand for. He's got a good mentality, is humble and hard-working […] If he says like that he'll keep getting better. He's just a very good player."

Weston McKennie also became a UEFA Champions League goalscorer in the group stages of this season. - AFP/Getty Images

McKennie as a striker?

As if to put that to the test, Tedesco decided to stretch McKennie again on Bundesliga Matchday 8, playing him off the shoulder of striker Guido Burgstaller at home to Werder Bremen. Schalke may have ended up losing, but again McKennie's display was encouraging. So much so that the American was used as a second striker on three further occasions.

Despite playing more and riskier balls higher up the pitch, the Schalke No.2 only misplaced 22.3 per cent of his passes, made more sprints (27.3 per game) and covered more ground (7.69 miles per match) than in almost all other positions this season. It is a position that appears to suit his talents: blessed with pace and stamina he can execute a high-pressing strategy, and his recent goals hint at more to come from him in the final third.

"I can play anywhere except goalkeeper," laughed McKennie when asked about his versatility. "But if the coach asks me to play there, then I would."

What does Weston prefer?

All in all, the 20-year-old was used in six different positions in 2018/19 by Tedesco and his successor Huub Stevens. But what does the man himself want to do?

"I'm more of a box-to-box player," McKennie told bundesliga.com after starring in a No. 10 position in Schalke's first game of 2019 on Matchday 18, a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg in which McKennie claimed an assist for the winning goal.

New USA coach Gregg Berhalter also has a clear view on where McKennie will play in the national team. "I see him as a central midfielder who can win balls but can also get into the opposition penalty box," he told Fox Sports in January 2019. "When I watch him play he's very aggressive with runs in the box and he has the physical capacity to win balls back so I really like his skillset and I see him mostly as a central midfielder."

That chimes with McKennie's own opinion: "I have defensive strengths and I also have offensive strengths. I like to be able to go forward. I don't really like having to stay back the whole time, but I just try and do my best to help the team whether it's defensively or offensively. I like the role so hopefully, I can keep playing that."

Unlikely as that may seem, it is that very attitude that Tedesco found so appealing. And as he approaches the 70-game mark as a professional for club and country, such exposure and experience to a variety of positions can only stand McKennie in good stead.