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Weston McKennie growing into midfield role with USMNT


Weston McKennie admittedly tried to do too much in his first U.S. Men’s National Team matches. He was eager to impress, and that’s only natural. Thrust into the national team spotlight at just 19 years old, he wanted to step in and contribute in as many different ways as possible. You can’t do it all, though, and McKennie is no exception.

On Monday, though, McKennie didn’t try to do much. Instead, he simply played his role and, in doing that, the young midfielder popped up all over the field in what was his most complete USMNT performance to date.

McKennie was one of four USMNT players to go all 90 minutes in a 3-0 win over Bolivia. Throughout those 90 minutes, McKennie proved to be a major presence in the midfield, leading the USMNT in tackles and interceptions.

“I think, from when I made my debut, in my head I was wanting to go out there and try to do everything and get forward all the time and stay back,” McKennie said. “I played in a different role in my debut than the one I played today. I played in that holding position, a bit more defensive, and let Christian do more of the attacking. In Portugal, I played more of that 8 role.

“The difference is that I was more familiar with the role that I was playing because I played it back in Schalke. I felt a little bit more comfortable and more confident in the role. It translated onto the field. I think people could see that maybe sometimes it was a bit too comfortable but nothing bad happened to it so it’s good.”

The continued comfort is key for McKennie. The Schalke midfielder is a player that has been earmarked by many as a potential leader for this young USMNT group, and he certainly showed flashes of that on Monday.

McKennie was, for lack of a better term, everywhere. In a match where he was determined to not try and do too much, he somehow found his way into seemingly every sequence. Against a Bolivia team that couldn’t quite match the USMNT’s speed of play, McKennie was quick, smart, physical and, ultimately, successful.

“You have to take a lot of variables into account. Certainly the opponent is one,” said head coach Dave Sarachan. “Given their age, positionally, the game reveals who you’re about in most cases, and when you start to look at each individual player tonight, a guy like Josh Sargent, who has a frame, understands what he’s about in terms of being a forward, that picture you see. Now, when the games get even faster and harder, it will reveal where he’s at even more.

“That’s true for all the young guys. I think what you see in many of them is a good starting point, but there’s still a lot of room for each and every player — and that goes for Christian (Pulisic) all the way through Weston and all the way though Josh — for things to continue to improve and get better.”

For quite some time, many have been excited to see what would be a first-choice midfield trio of McKennie, Pulisic and Tyler Adams. You got two-thirds of it on Monday, as McKennie and Pulisic joined Joe Corona in the center of the field. Pulisic wasn’t at his best as he rejoined the USMNT after a long season but McKennie shined in a match that ended with the Schalke star as a standout performer.

He’s not the only one, though. Keaton Parks, making his USMNT debut, showed the size and touch that make him seem to be a can’t-miss prospect. Other young options like Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan and Marky Delgado certainly remain in the mix as well as the USMNT continues to integrate a crop of young options.

“I know I’m young,” McKennie said, “but we have a lot of younger guys like Josh and Timmy (Weah) that are getting more minutes like today and were able to express themselves a lot… I think it’s holding back my energy and knowing my role and knowing that we have a lot of gifted attackers up top so now I can kind of sit back and be true to my position.

“It kind of translates off the field also,” McKennie added. “I’m roommates with Timmy. We’ve gotten to know each other very well and, with the other players, we go out to dinner together. We play credit card roulette. We get a vibe of everyone and everyone gets a feel and comfort.  Today was about everyone trying to express themselves and also staying together as a team. Yeah, everyone wants to show their individual talents and why they should still be here, but at the end of the day, it’s all about developing and getting a result for the country.”

McKennie and the USMNT got that result quite easily on Monday, but the road ahead is obviously much tougher. It’s about the long haul, balancing expectations and, ultimately, growing as both individuals and as a unit. That’ll have to happen over the next four years, and it will take steps that vary in size.

The next steps? Matches against Ireland and France, two obvious steps up following Monday’s relative cakewalk against Bolivia. They’re steps McKennie is ready to try and take, and they’re steps that he’s beginning to feel more comfortable with in each passing game.

“Obviously, they’re going to be a lot tougher. We don’t want to take any game lightly,” McKennie said. “Today, you can’t compare Bolivia with France. Of course they’re a hard-working team, but France and Ireland, of course we want to plan ahead and see how we’ll approach the game and we’ll line up against them and and we’ll have a gameplan and hopefully it works out and we get a good result. “


  1. I was impressed by McKennie’s energy, literally everywhere on the field. During the first half, I was a bit worried to have seen McKennie continuously going to the ground to make tackles, some even in or near the box. On a bad day, he could be regrettably punished by giving away unnecessary penalties or red card, especially in critical games where it counts. That reckless behavior went away in the second half which I was happy to see.

    • Totally agree! His game is similar to Jermain Jones. Never saw a questionable tackle he could not win and no fear getting sucked out of position.

      This kid is so active and countless times popped up in passing lanes. Either getting a foot on a pass or closing it down. You could say he is proactive on the field but I see it as reacting with aggression. Rather then thinking what he should do he reacts with an absolute purpose. Reacting with aggression, athletes either have it or they don’t its not taught.

      Time will tell how he plays against a superior team? When he needs to be more accountable for his actions and be a leader proving cohesiveness in defending and attacking.

  2. I think he hasn’t yet found that consistency you hope to see, but that will come with more PT. By the next World Cup he become a top quality international. I think the young nucleus looks good for the next 4 to 8 years.


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