Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie has lauded the game-changing qualities of Borussia Dortmund counterpart Christian Pulisic, ahead of the pair's reunion for the USA in the upcoming international friendlies against England and Italy.
McKennie makes his return to the squad having missed the October friendlies against Colombia and Peru through injury, while Pulisic has only appeared once for the USMNT this calendar year due to injury and club commitments.
Looking forward to getting back on the pitch stronger than ever 🔵⚪️🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/KstBSQrnua— Weston McKennie (@WMckennie) October 8, 2018
'Pulisic always finds a way'
"We’ve been pretty good lately, but I think we need a little bit more creativity in the final third, and a few more players who like to go one-on-one with players," McKennie told SportsIllustrated. “Christian is the type of player, when you see him out wide with the ball, you know he’s going to get by the player 95 percent of the time. He’ll find a way.
"That’s something that will definitely help our team and give us a little confidence boost. There are always players that whenever they’re on the field with you, you feel comfortable with. Players you can count on, players you just believe in a little bit more. Christian is one of those players."
McKennie ready to rock Wembley Stadium
McKennie and Pulisic are two of six Bundesliga representatives in USA interim coach Dave Sarachan’s current squad, along with John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Bobby Wood (Hannover). The games against England and Italy will be the Stars and Stripes’ final outings of the calendar year, and McKennie plans to make the most of the opportunity.
"Many people are going into these games thinking, 'O.K., they’re going to get blown away,' or, 'It’s England, they just almost won the World Cup, and it’s Italy, a powerhouse,' but going into these games as young players, it’s definitely a good experience to get that under our belt and use it to progress for the future," McKennie said. "It’s not every day you get to play against England in London at Wembley Stadium and against Italy. It’s a really big opportunity for us to show what the USA can do, and for me to show myself on a really big stage."
'I’m no longer a rookie'
McKennie already has ample experience of that with Schalke. The 20-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough season as a professional in 2017/18, turning out 22 times in the Bundesliga as the Royal Blues finished runners-up behind record champions Bayern Munich. He has since added nine Bundesliga and four UEFA Champions League appearances to his resumé, scoring his first competitive goals at club level in games against Lokomotiv Moscow and Fortuna Düsseldorf.
"You could say last season for my personal game and our team accomplishments was a fairytale season," McKennie said. "I think this year’s a little bit more reality. Times where you play, times where you don’t play. This season for me personally is an important season, because I don’t have the excuse anymore of, 'It’s his first season as a pro, his first season in the Bundesliga.' Those mistakes I was able to get away with last season, I can’t really get away with them now because I’m considered more of an experienced player than being a rookie."
Watch: Weston McKennie scored his first Bundesliga goal on Matchday 7
Jack of all trades, master of all?
McKennie’s on-going development is reflected in the number of different positions he has played in under Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco so far this season. From centre-back through to centre-forward, he has been deployed in almost every outfield position imaginable on top of the No.8 role he typically performs for the USA.
"I can actually play almost every position," McKennie explained. "Maybe the only position I only slightly play is winger, you could say. But I can play right-back, right wing-back, centre-back, six, holding mid, attacking mid, forward. I guess my coach sees me as a player who works hard and hustles. No matter where he puts you on the field, he knows he’s going to get 100 per cent from me."