Weston McKennie: Schalke's and the USA's Jack of all trades and master of some
Need a defensive midfielder with strength and bite? How about a player out wide who can provide a precision pass or a telling tackle? Or maybe even a central attacker with the ability to moonlight at full-back? Then you need to call Weston McKennie, Schalke‘s and the USA’s all-purpose, one-man Mr. Versatile.
McKennie made his USA debut last November, starting at attacking midfield – and scoring – in a 1-1 draw with European champions Portugal in Leiria. Now, after a fine, battling performance in front of the defence in Schalke’s 1-0 win over Mainz on Friday, the 19-year-old is fast proving that he can cut it all over the pitch.
“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 coach Domenico Tedesco enthused after a performance in which the versatile American won 60 percent of his challenges and covered seven miles – both team highs.
“Our coach doesn’t even always have to tell us what to do,” concurred McKennie. “He just tells us to get on to each other in training. Not just to be critical but because we want to be better. We’re like a big family.”
It is this team spirit – as much as anything tactical – that was central to Tedesco’s plan to disarm Mainz on Friday. McKennie’s mentality and positional awareness are far beyond what might be expected of a teenager in his first year of professional football, but he more than justified his inclusion ahead of the in-demand Max Meyer.
Despite wrestling with a knee ligament injury this season, McKennie has has now racked up 16 Bundesliga appearances this term – and 19 in all competitions. The talented Texan is back to his confident best following a six-week layoff.
Watch: McKennie on his USA chances!
“[Being sidelined for that period] felt like an eternity to me,” McKennie said of his spell in the treatment room. “It was tough. I could no longer pursue my passion and instead had to go to rehab. Running in front of a mirror on the treadmill all the time is less fun than standing on the pitch. But I had to go through it,” he added.
“I’m feeling like a new player, as if the injury might have made me a little bit better.” With football’s Mr. Versatile in these spirits, it can only be good news for Schalke and the USMNT.