After proving that he belongs in the United States team during a summer of impressive performances, Schalke’s Weston McKennie is out to do the same at club level in the 2018/19 season, and all the stars, and even stripes, are aligning for him to make his mark.
While some of his Schalke teammates were on their holidays, McKennie was making his mark on his home country, playing all but nine minutes of three summer friendlies which have earned him a place in the USMNT squad for the foreseeable future.
“As a young kid going over there, it’s kind of hard to try and gain the respect of your own teammates and let them trust you,” McKennie told bundesliga.com last month.
Perhaps that is really how it was for Texas-born McKennie, coming to Schalke as an unknown and forcing his way into an improving team past far older, more experienced players around him. The 19-year-old American understands that respect is earned, not given. And boy has Weston earned it.
Schalke only lost three of the 23 matches in which McKennie played, but lost four of the 12 he missed in the Bundesliga during 2017/18. It’s a clear sign of how vital the American has already become, and his attitude, commitment and, above all, clear love for Schalke and his team that has helped McKennie become a popular figure both in the dressing room with his teammates, and on the pitch in front of Royal Blue fans.
Watch: Schalke's wonderkid, Weston McKennie!
“I think I’ve made my mark on the team,” McKennie said. “I think they respect me now and I think I’ve gained the trust from the players, and from the coach as well.”
He did the same when making his international debut with the USA in November. Speaking before receiving his first call-up, McKennie said “It'll be exciting if I do get the call-up. I hope I do, and if I do then I'll prove I belong there." And in the spirit of his ongoing story, McKennie did just that, scoring inside 20 minutes against Portugal to show his home country that he’s already good enough for their trust.
And it is that same coach, Domenico Tedesco, who has seemingly entrusted McKennie to play a pivotal role in Schalke’s immediate future, replacing two key players departed this summer, both in his position. Leon Goretzka’s move south to Munich and Max Meyer’s decision to leave the Veltins Arena leaves Schalke’s midfield worse-off than last season – or so you'd think.
Reinforcements have arrived with two midfielders - Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar - joining the club during the summer of 2018, but neither have the trust that McKennie has been given by Tedesco. The defensive midfielder was even tested in the centre of defence during last year’s winter break, in which Tedesco admitted he had been looking to try him out there for a while.
“He’s a machine,” Tedesco said of McKennie earlier in the season. “He’s good in the air, strong and up for anything.”
Having silenced the doubters with his first major hurdle in asserting his place in the first-team and shown the USMNT that he does indeed belong with them, now comes McKennie’s next big career challenge. The players ahead of him in the pecking order last season are gone and new stars chomping at the bit to play their role have joined the battle. Can McKennie show that Schalke, and indeed the United States’ futures can also be placed in the trust of a young American footballer.
“I have a strong mentality. That’s what a lot of people tell me. That’s what I feel. It’s not easy to break me down. Even when players try and talk bad to me, it’s not easy to break me down. I just throw it over my shoulder and keep going.”
Time to throw the stars, stripes and royal blues over your shoulder, too, Weston, and carry them into 2018/19 and beyond.