Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie feels he has earned the respect of those around him after a breakthrough year in the Bundesliga.

Having made his Schalke debut on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign, McKennie clocked up 22 league appearances this season to help the Royal Blues finish second in the table.

The 19-year-old added to his burgeoning experience with a solid display for the U.S. in a 2-1 defeat against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday. After scoring on his national team bow in Portugal last November, he could even have made it two goals in three caps only to see a skilfully crafted second-half effort saved.

Speaking to reporters after the game in Dublin, McKennie seemed satisfied with what he had achieved since joining Schalke in August 2016.

“It’s been a challenge, obviously, when I first went over there,” he said.

“But I think I’ve made my mark on the team. I think they respect me now. 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. But I think I’ve gained the trust from the players, and from the coach as well.

“And the club supports me also. So I think that’s the most important thing as a foreign player, I guess, going into a foreign country and playing, is to make sure you have a good support system from everyone. And just always have the right type of mentality.

“I think, for me, I have a strong mentality. That’s what a lot of people tell me. That’s what I feel also. 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.”

Watch: See what makes McKennie a Schalke wonderkid

McKennie signed for Schalke from FC Dallas, shortly after striker Haji Wright, who scored one goal in 15 appearances during a loan spell with second-tier side Sandhausen this season. The pair have since been joined in Gelsenkirchen by another American, 19-year-old midfielder Nick Taitague, who is still part of Schalke’s youth set-up.

Having lived in Kaiserslautern from the age of six to nine, however, Texas native McKennie said the transition to German football was a lot easier for him.

“Going over there was much easier than for Nick Taitague or Haji going over there and not knowing any of the language and not knowing what it’s going to be like,” McKennie explained.

“But I kind of knew what it was going to look like when I went over there, and kind of missed it also.

“Of course I miss my family but I’ve been away from my family since I was 15 years old so it’s something that I’m used to now.”

McKennie is being tipped to play an even bigger role at Schalke next term. © imago / Jan Huebner

There are other things coming up that McKennie wouldn’t mind becoming accustomed to either. Next on the agenda is a match against France on Saturday, closely followed by the prospect of playing UEFA Champions League football for Schalke next season.

Mark Rodden

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