The last time we checked in with Weston McKennie, he was trotting on for his first 15 minutes of fame with the Schalke first team.
McKennie joined Schalke as soon as he was eligible in August of 2016, before FC Dallas was able to secure him to a contract and gain any financial windfall from a move. Whether or not that contributed to Schalke’s interest – scooping up a player of McKennie’s caliber for literally nothing is an unbeatable deal – it certainly greased the wheels to Germany.
In any case, McKennie played most of the season for the Schalke U19s, where he wore the armband for much of the season and piloted the team to a cantering run to the semifinals of the national U19 tournament. Schalke was stunned by Bayern Munich in penalties after giving up a multiple-goal lead, but the free time also opened the door for McKennie (and American teammate Haji Wright) to make the gameday roster for the final match of the year against Ingolstadt.
Since then, both McKennie and Wright were promoted to the first team, where at least initially they faced an uncertain pathway to the field between the shady tall trees provided by new coach Domenico Tedesco, who is all of 31 years old. Thankfully, we didn’t wait long for Tedesco’s feeling on his two promoted Americans (Nick Taitague, who’s younger, faces another year with the U19s). They’d have their chance in the preseason. After that, we’d simply have to wait and see.
At least in McKennie’s case, we might be seeing him on the first team sooner rather than later.
Schalke’s preseason has already been going well for the two Americans. Wright and McKennie combined for four goals and three assists in a drubbing of sixth-division German side two weeks ago, and McKennie added another beauty to his oeuvre on Wednesday. Schalke got in a 3-2 preseason win over Turkish side Besiktas, and McKennie’s show-stopping assist was the toast of the town.
Look at this thing.
McKennie, positionally, has always vacillated somewhat awkwardly between the 6 and the 8. It’s never been all that obvious what he is, or where he projects into a major club’s XI, so this preseason was fairly enormous when you consider he’s making that impression from scratch with Tedesco.
McKennie’s always seemed to verge closer to a sitting, distributive 6 something like a Wil Trapp. But at 19 in a system like Schalke’s, where young players mostly need to fit into where they’re needed rather than where they might prefer to be needed, he was always going to get a bit of a tweak when it came to where he was deployed. And it certainly seems Tedesco is asking him to step into the attack a bit. The good news is that he has both the vision and the daring to make that deployment work.
With seemingly every game, we learn more about how ready McKennie’s becoming for first team soccer. Remember, the only reason he wasn’t at the U20 World Cup in South Korea this summer – he probably would’ve been the U.S.’s best overall player – was because Schalke chose to hold back its Schalkemericans for the German U19 playoffs. Even though Schalke crashed out of the tournament days before the U20 World Cup even started, the club ultimately gave him his first competitive Bundesliga minutes. Not bad.
Now that McKennie’s mostly clear of YNT camps – there’s always the 2020 Olympics, but the U23s won’t convene for its prep work for another few years – we turn our attention to the senior team. It’s unlikely McKennie gets much of a sniff from Bruce Arena this tight to next year’s World Cup (I’d give him a camp, but I’m #PlayYourKids ’til I die), but the moment the Russian trip is done I’d expect his phone to ring.
In the interim, he might just develop into a Bundesliga first teamer.