Weston McKennie had made two Bundesliga substitute appearances before his first league start against Bayern Munich.
You surely know about Christian Pulisic. You know about the American wunderkind who, even as a teenager, is starring for both the United States national team and Borussia Dortmund.
What you might not know is that if Pulisic starts a game in the German Bundesliga this week, he won’t be the only 19-year-old American to do so. It’s time to familiarize yourself with FC Schalke youngster Weston McKennie.
McKennie has broken into Schalke’s first team this season. And after a couple of Bundesliga substitute appearances and a start in the German Cup, the Texas native was named in Schalke’s starting 11 for Tuesday’s clash with German giants Bayern Munich.
So who is the other American teenager making an impact at the highest level of German soccer?
He’s a well-rounded central midfielder, clean on the ball for his age. At this stage in his career, he’s more holding midfielder than playmaker, but has box-to-box potential. He’s 6-foot-1, athletic, and can hold up physically even against robust opponents. Top Drawer Soccer put together this short scouting tape last year:
McKennie was born in Little Elm, Texas, exactly three weeks before Pulisic was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania. McKennie lived in Germany for roughly three years as a child, between the ages of 6 and 9, but returned to the U.S. and joined FC Dallas’ academy.
He developed in FC Dallas youth teams, as well as in U.S. youth national teams, where he played alongside Pulisic. Ironically, the two now find themselves on opposite sides of a heated Bundesliga rivalry, but they’ve been friends since they met as 14-year-olds with U.S. youth national sides.
Despite FC Dallas’ attempts to lock him in to a contract and promote him to the club’s senior squad, McKennie made the jump overseas in August of 2016, just over 12 months ago. He signed with Schalke two days after his 18th birthday.
MLS commissioner Don Garber admitted his disappointment at not being able to keep McKennie in the U.S.’s domestic league. “That one hurt,” Garber told Sports Illustrated. “We had a lot of forces that we were working against on signing that player, and that’s the reality of how difficult it is with a player pool at the youth level that continues to attract the attention of very, very aggressive and well-funded international teams. That one hurt.”
McKennie began with the under-19s at Schalke, alongside fellow American Haji Wright. Both quickly worked their way up to the senior squad. But whereas Wright has been sent out on loan to second-division Sandhausen, McKennie began the 2017-18 season with Schalke’s first team.
He started and played 54 minutes in a DFB Pokal win before the Bundesliga season kicked off. He then came off the bench to help see out a 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on the season’s opening weekend. Three weeks later, he played a similar substitute role in a 3-1 win over Stuttgart.
Tuesday, he got his chance to start on the biggest of Bundesliga stages, at home against the five-time reigning champions. He lined up as one of two central midfielders in a 5-4-1.
Schalke was extremely poor as a unit, and, by no fault of McKennie, went down 2-0 within the first 30 minutes. McKennie’s performance was unremarkable but solid. He won a few challenges and lost a few. He was tidy in possession. It was his midfield colleagues who time after time lost the ball in Schalke’s own defensive third and presented Bayern with chances.
McKennie was replaced after 57 minutes, with Schalke manager Domenico Tedesco opting to bring on a second striker and chance the team’s shape. Overall, it was a satisfactory full debut for the young American.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.