If there is one thing that Jurgen Klinsmann brought to the US National Team, its the idea that playing abroad can only help a career in the long run. To say that it has worked would be an understatement. Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Clint Dempsey, and more recently Christian Pulisic are shining examples of this ideal. Many of the young guns in American soccer have been brought up lately due to some amazing play, but there is a guy in Turin that could be the best of the bunch. His name, Weston McKinnie.
The Juventus central midfielder was born in Little Elm, Texas on August 28th, 1998. I added this because I want everyone who is older than this to feel their age and wonder what they were doing at these ages. In 2009, he joined the FC Dallas academy where he would stay for 7 years. If the FC Dallas Academy rings a bell to some people, they have produced the likes of Ramiro Funes Mori and for my MLS fans Kellen Acosta. More and more scouts are making their way to the United States in order to find untapped talent. Germany seemed to be the first major wave on the scene bringing talent from the US overseas, but players like Sergino Dest and Zac Steffen are making statements in La Liga and the Premier League respectively.
In 2016, German side Schalke purchased the young man and he subsequently turned professional, opting not to play college soccer in the United Stats. After spending one year in the youth system, McKennie earned a spot in the first team, and cemented that spot at the age of 19. Yes 19. In 2018-2019, he started 19 games and got one goal and four assists playing as a defensive midfielder on a team that finished 14th out of 20 teams. 2019-2020 saw his offensive numbers drop with 3 goals and no assists, but showed more stability for a defense that allowed 58 goals on the year. Then something rather puzzling happened.
Weston McKennie went from a middle of the pack side in Schalke, and took his talents to Turin and the powerful Juventus FC. The Old Lady (hilarious nickname) are the most successful in Italy, and one of the most successful in the world. It also doesn’t hurt that he is playing with truly world class players like Paulo Dybala, Matthijs De Ligt, oh and this guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. He is also playing under Andrea Pirlo who is one of the best to play the deep lying playmaking position ever. Pirlo is the perfect tutor for his offensive talent. Just don’t talk to NYCFC fans about his defensive effort. Most importantly though, he is playing on a side that is fighting competitions on three fronts, which will give the 22 year old the minutes he needs to improve against some of the top players in the game today.
So far this season for Juve, he is averaging 1.1 shots per game, 1.2 key passes a game (pass that leads to a potential goal scoring opportunity), along with 1.1 tackles and 1 interception per game. His tackling doubles in the Champions league averaging 2.2 tackles per game, while his other stats stay relatively unchanged. He has the 7th highest average rating on the Juventus squad, which is more difficult when you take into account he has made 5 of his 12 appearances off the bench. McKinnie has come a long way from Little Elm, Texas.
He has also managed to carry that form over to his US National team call ups. In 21 appearances in the red and white, McKennie has six goals and three assists as a midfielder. The 2020 US Mens Player of the Year has been and needs to be a key contributor for the US in the years to come not only to help seal up the back line, but to open up the play and put his attackers in position to score. His passing is going to grow exponentially learning from one two of the best, coach and player. He and Tyler Adams leave a lot of hope that if the US can develop a striker, this team will be a sneaky good team sooner rather than later.
McKennie does not get the shine or the commercial of guys like Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest, but he most certainly deserves to be talked about in the same respects. He is doing it at a top league on a top team. He is better right now than both Dest and Tyler Adams. If you asked me when the season kicked off, I would have put Pulisic in front of McKennie by a big of a margain, but Weston’s play this year coupled by Christian’s lack of play over the last couple of months flips these two players in my mind. McKennie will never get the name recognition he deserves, but US Soccer fans will get to know the name very well for the next decade.