As you know by now if you’re an unrepentant soccer nerd like me, the Schalkemerica trio of Nick Taitague, Weston McKennie and Haji Wright are all now firmly ensconced and playing official games with the Schalke U19 team. And that’s the Schalke U19 team that currently leads its national division.
But none of them had made their first team debut yet. Which changed on Thursday.
The trio was called up to train with the first team earlier in the week (Wright had at least gotten that far before over the winter break on a trip to Spain), and both Taitague and McKennie were included on the official team sheet for Thursday’s friendly against Hannover. These matches are often an excuse to lob playing time at academy kids and first teamers rounding into form off injuries, and Schalke didn’t waste the opportunity to see a couple of its Schalkemericans in action on the senior level for the first time.
— FC Schalke 04 (@s04) March 23, 2017
There are two Americans on that list. And one of them, No. 2 McKennie, started.
McKennie largely acquitted himself well in about 70 minutes of action before being subbed off. He was whistled for a soft foul (it didn’t look like he made much if any contact) just outside the box early in the first half, and Hannover converted the ensuing free kick for the opening goal (Schalke lost 3-1, for whatever that’s worth). But McKennie recovered nicely from his perch in the deep central midfield and helped influence the match by putting his clamps on possession. It was not a transcendent performance, but you could see why Schalke is so excited. McKennie looked as comfortable as anyone.
Taitague also made his first team debut, albeit in a brief cameo role. The Virginian trotted on with about eight minutes to go and had a few brief moments as a wide attacking player. But it was clear the club felt the strongest about McKennie, and it was entirely clear why.
As for the third, Wright, we didn’t need to wait long after the match to have our explanation as to why we didn’t see him alongside his fellow Schalkemericans.
Congrats to all the guys who got some game time today with the First team @s04 !! Unfortunately couldn’t participate due to injury.
— Haji Wright (@HajiWright) March 23, 2017
So there it is. All three are undoubtedly being watched by U20 MNT coach Tab Ramos, with his U20 World Cup roster announcement expected within the next few weeks. McKennie is the no-brainer of the group, and the Schalke U19 captain is an automatic starter should he be granted his release by the mothership (and there’s no reason to think he won’t be). Taitague and Wright are bigger unknowns, but especially Wright. Taitague’s had a U20 MNT call-up to a Ramos camp as recently as December on the eve of qualifying (Taitague wasn’t on the final qualifying roster while he was negotiating his official switch to Schalke in February). Wright, though, has more of a tangled YNT situation. As far as I can tell, he’s not been called up to a U20 camp once, in this entire cycle, and even if I’m missing one or two, the number is microscopic. So perhaps Ramos simply doesn’t rate Wright. Who knows.
In any case, Thursday represented another step up the ladder for all three at their new home club.