He’s already captained his nation at 20, so could Weston McKennie one day wear the armband for Schalke? - © imago images / RHR-Foto
He’s already captained his nation at 20, so could Weston McKennie one day wear the armband for Schalke? - © imago images / RHR-Foto
bundesliga

Weston McKennie: A Schalke captain of the future?

Weston McKennie may only be 20 but he has already captained the USA in an international final and staked a claim to one day lead his club Schalke.

bundesliga.com explores the American’s hopes of being a future Royal Blue captain…

McKennie has made over 50 competitive appearances for Schalke as he enters his third full season as a professional in Gelsenkirchen. It followed just a year in the club’s famed Knappenschmiede academy after signing from FC Dallas in his home state of Texas.

Having spent three years in Germany as a child, the move back to Europe was an easy one for the player born in Fort Lewis, Washington. He was able to comfortably slip back into German life, pick up the language again and above all integrate himself into the Schalke way of doing things.

Watch: McKennie: "We play for the badge on our chest!"

Die Knappen – the miners – are a club forged in the collieries and refineries of Gelsenkirchen. Such professions created an attitude of hard work amongst locals, prompting the local term Malocher to describe the mentality of the city and by extension the club. It is one which McKennie himself embodies on the pitch.

The 20-year-old covered well over seven miles per game last season and threw himself into an average of 25.5 challenges every 90 minutes. Both statistics were in the upper echelons for Schalke players, while his ability to win a league-best 60 per cent of his aerial challenges despite being just 6’0’’ speaks volumes for his enthusiasm and effervescence. But it wasn’t just the physical sacrifice McKennie made on the pitch.

Despite his preferred position being in the centre of midfield, the American was called upon to help a Schalke team in some difficulty with his versatility. Under coaches Domenico Tedesco and Huub Stevens, McKennie was utilised as a centre-back, right-back, holding midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, No.10, right winger and second striker.

Watch: McKennie discusses his versatility

"I've already shown that I can play in almost every position," McKennie explained before jokingly adding, "I can play anywhere except goalkeeper, but if the coach asks me to play there, then I would."

Such commitment to a club’s cause is hard to come by but is exactly what is sought after in a captain and leader. It’s a level of sacrifice that fits in with Schalke’s Malocher mentality.

Such characteristics have not gone unnoticed back in the States and by USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter. Since making his senior debut under Dave Sarachan in November 2017, scoring in the 1-1 draw with European champions Portugal, McKennie has become a key fixture in the centre of the USA team.

Ever since winning that maiden cap, the Texan has had a hand in over 26 per cent of the USA’s goals – as a predominantly holding midfielder – and the team has won seven of the 14 games in which McKennie has featured.

His influence within the USMNT was recognised by Berhalter at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. The 20-year-old started five of the six matches, only being rested for the group-stage dead-rubber against Panama, as the USA reached the final.

McKennie (l.) captained the USA in the 2019 Gold Cup final, taking the armband ahead of more experienced teammates such as Christian Pulisic (r.). - imago images / Icon SMI

That game at Soldier Field in Chicago will forever remain with McKennie as he was handed the captain’s armband from the start in the 1-0 defeat to Mexico, being named skipper despite seven of the starting XI having greater international experience.

The well-known adage that age is but a number has been proven many times in football and the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, for example, has shown he is good enough to play for FIFA World Cup and UEFA Nations League semi-finalists England despite being only 18 at the time of his debut, while at the other end of the spectrum Claudio Pizarro is still banging in the goals for Werder Bremen well into his 40s.

And despite his tender age of 20, McKennie has insisted he is prepared for a leadership role. “I’d be ready, I’m used to taking on responsibility,” the Texan told sports magazine kicker when asked about the possibility of being named Schalke skipper for 2019/20.

It might be some time before we see Captain America appear at Schalke with goalkeeper Alexander Nübel ultimately getting the nod from David Wagner, but McKennie would be continuing a proud line of American captains in the Bundesliga.

Steve Cherundolo skippered Hannover for three years and was the last American to be named captain of a Bundesliga club. - 2012 AFP

Back in the late 1990s, Claudio Reyna became the first American to captain a European club when he skippered Wolfsburg. He was followed by McKennie’s current USMNT boss Berhalter, who captained Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion in 2006 before taking the armband in his first season at 1860 Munich in 2006/07.

That same year USA goalkeeper Kasey Keller was named Borussia Mönchengladbach captain by Jupp Heynckes prior to the appointment of the Bundesliga’s record American appearance-holder, Steve Cherundolo, at Hannover for 2010/11.

The foundations are therefore there for McKennie should Schalke head coach Wagner, himself a former USMNT international, wish to add a Star-Spangled touch to the captaincy in the future with an enthusiastic on-field leader who has shown unparalleled commitment to the Royal Blue cause in a still young career.