Midfielder | Schalke 04 | USA
The Bundesliga has harboured many promising young American talents in recent years, from the likes of Julian Green and John Brooks, to the current crop of up-and-comers that includes Borussia Dortmund sensation Christian Pulisic and Schalke’s Weston McKennie.
A tough, tireless defensively-minded midfielder, McKennie’s game may be somewhat less eye-catching than Pulisic’s attacking verve, but the 20-year-old is still worthy of similar plaudits. Domenico Tedesco certainly recognises the American’s worth, and has made the 6’1” youngster a central pillar in his team.
McKennie’s best work on the field often goes unnoticed by most. His consistently smart positioning and attentive marking make him in an effective block in the middle of the park, whilst on the ball he regularly looks to spark attacking moves. He defines his own function on the pitch as being to “win the ball and look to play it.”
That characterisation of his role may sound simple, because it is. However, it is by no means an easy task to perform, yet McKennie generally shows great maturity, skill and footballing intelligence in his play that allows him to perform the basics with admirable consistency.
That’s not to say, though, that McKennie is entirely averse to the spectacular. On his senior international debut, in November last year, he drove at the Portugal defence, striding regally into the box, before drilling the ball home past a wrong-footed Beto. To resort to cliché, it was a goal any striker would’ve been proud of, and, of course, it was also a fine way for the Texan to announce himself on the international stage.
2018 has been…
…a year of progression. Injuries hampered the first half of the calendar year for McKennie, but he still featured prominently at the Veltins-Arena when fit. He also attained a further six caps this year, including starting in the USA’s November friendly clash with England that marked the end of current MLS-star Wayne Rooney’s international career. Again, McKennie would’ve likely represented his country more had injuries not intervened.
The start of the new Bundesliga season has seen him take another step forward. With the fitness issues seemingly largely behind him now, McKennie has been free to feature week in, week out for Schalke, in starting XI more often than not.
He has also experienced his first taste of continental competition, with Schalke competing in the Champions League this year. The German club were able to progress as runners up in Group D, as McKennie scored against Lokomotiv Moscow and assisted against Porto along the way.
A season untarnished by injury setbacks is vital. There are of course improvements to be made in his game too. McKennie’s decision-making is occasionally erratic, especially when he looks to force the issue by being too aggressive and inpatient in his distribution. A lack of experience - an affliction of youth - is likely a factor in this.
Aside from that, the Schalke No. 2 just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. The true measure of class is consistency. McKennie must prove that can be relied upon to come up with the goods in game, after game, after game.