Saturday marked the end of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season, which means another tragic four-month period without the world’s most exciting league. All the final day gave us was, in miniature:
– The career curtain calls for Bayern Munich’s Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso (the latter of whom rang up an assist in a predictable winning effort)
– A scintillating 4-3 BVB win over Werder Bremen that featured an impressive Christian Pulisic cameo (replete with a drawn penalty)
– Bayer Leverkusen’s ridiculously entertaining 6-2 drubbing of Hertha Berlin
– A shocking last-gasp Hamburg goal to drop Wolfsburg 2-1 and beat the drop on the last day, thus preserving the longest Bundesliga run in existence
By comparison, Schalke’s fairly pedestrian 1-1 draw over Bavarian club Ingolstadt was hardly one of the day’s top stories. Schalke’s mediocre season meant it could end the day no higher than eighth, while Ingolstadt had been marked for the drop a week earlier. Schalke opened the scoring in the 2nd minute, and a penalty allowed Ingolstadt to equalize at 1-1. A second-half red card left Schalke bunkering while the largely ineffective Ingolstadt attack – only three teams scored fewer goals this campaign – proved incapable of breaking down the shield wall.
But, as most Americans knew, the most compelling storylines on the day were camped on the bench to start the game. Two of them, in fact.
In the week leading up to the match, Schalke announced American youth players Weston McKennie and Haji Wright were moving up to the senior team from the U19 side that ended its season in the German U19 semifinals against Bayern Munich. And not just for the last game of the season.
There’s one more American currently at Schalke, Nick Taitague. But he’s younger and joined the team later than either McKennie or Wright. In fact, he only got about three months with the team after turning 18 in February. Taitague might be more technically skilled on ball than either, but his age combined with his slight size and you understand why Schalke wants him with the U19s another year.
In any case, Wright and McKennie were on the bench for Ingolstadt. That wasn’t so much a surprise. But this was… well, it was quite a thing to see.
McKennie didn’t have much time to operate – about 15 minutes all told – and Schalke was down a man, so they didn’t have much in the way of attacking verve. But he was largely tidy, put in a competent shift and generally looked like he belonged. He gave it away twice but also had a nice probing run into Ingolstadt’s third not long after coming on. It’s probably safe to assume Schalke rates him because he was the first sub to spring off the bench (need to talk about that No. 2 for a CDM, though).
Wright didn’t join him, but I don’t think we can necessarily begrudge the manager. This was club legend Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s last game for the club after eight years, and he won the attacking sub in lieu of Wright in the dying minutes. Not like it mattered, since Schalke was on the road and playing for the point, but there we are. Wright has all of 2017-18 to make his mark.
There’s only good news here. For McKennie, he’s now considered a Hot Prospect by club brass, which will be increasingly willing to lob him minutes in the coming years. For Wright, he’ll have an entire offseason to prove he deserves one of the club’s attacking slots. The good news is that Schalke is continually on the lookout for prospects. Schalke is always attempting to recycle Leroy Sanes, and on this note I would encourage you to read up on my recent chat with Schalke development legend Bodo Menze.
In other words, McKennie and Wright (and Taitague, eventually) will get chances at Schalke that they might not otherwise elsewhere. In terms of picking a club at which to develop, this generation of Schalkemericans could hardly have chosen better.