The Bundesliga is home to some of the most exciting young players in world football. Currently enjoying a breakout season, Weston McKennie can count himself among them. bundesliga.com gives you the lowdown on Schalke’s versatile American prodigy.
Position: Central midfield
Country: USA (1 cap, 1 goal)
Watch: Schalke's wonderkid: Weston McKennie!
McKennie got an early love for football when his father spent three years on military duty in Germany, and he joined local club FC Phönix Otterbach as a six-year-old. His combative nature no doubt developed while excelling at American Football on his family’s return to the United States, and was sharpened even further by playing alongside future Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic in US youth teams from the age of 13 on.
The Texas native made his Bundesliga debut on the final day of the 2016/17 season, and chalked up 13 league appearances in the first half of the following campaign before a knee injury checked his momentum. The holding midfielder’s tireless nature was evident on his first start following his recovery, however, as he covered 11.65 kilometres – the second highest tally in the game – during a 1-0 win over Mainz in March.
In September 2017, McKennie signed an improved contract that runs until 2022, and he seems set to be crucial to the United States national side’s future too. As befits a rising star, he scored on his international debut in a 1-1 draw against Portugal in November 2017.
Plays a bit like: Sami Khedira
McKennie has described his style as “win the ball and look to play it”, and the American has done that to great effect in the 3-5-2 formation that Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco favours. The 6'1" tall teenager’s power and good engine suits the role, as Tedesco likes his midfielders to aggressively press the opposition.
“That position requires a lot of running,” McKennie told espnfc in December 2017. “Stepping out, pressure, come back. It’s something that we have learned from Tedesco. You can only teach yourself the will - the heart - to do it. But the tactics behind it? We learned that from him.”
McKennie’s flexibility is another advantage. Tedesco has tested him in a three-man defence in a friendly match, and he played in a more advanced midfield than usual on international duty. The goal he got in the Portugal game – as well as his eye for a forward pass - shows that he’s learned plenty from watching his favourite player Francesco Totti growing up.
At the moment though, perhaps his game most resembles that of Germany and Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira: a strong and hard-working team player who can chip in with the odd important goal.
Did you know?
McKennie is thriving in Germany now, but he could have taken a very different path. His previous club FC Dallas wanted to sign him to a MLS Homegrown Player contract, while the University of Virginia had offered him a college scholarship. Instead he joined Schalke in August 2016, and he has never looked back.
"I made the right decision and I don't regret it at all," he said. "It wasn’t easy for me to let go of FC Dallas. But you’ve got to think ‘will I look back in 10 years and wish I could’ve gone over to Europe?’”
Watch: Hear how McKennie rates his chances of playing more for the USA
What they’re saying
Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco: “Weston McKennie is an aggressive leader. He can play anywhere in midfield, in front of the defence or behind the attack, at centre-back in a back three or a back four.
Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel: “Weston will develop into a key member of our first team. He has shown in the past few months that he is more than capable of contributing significantly to the future of Schalke. Thanks to his talent and his willingness to learn, Weston has made the rise from the U19s to the Bundesliga, and it’s been a success from the get-go.”
Weston McKennie: “If you can stand the feeling of losing, you have to rethink.”