WASHINGTON — Weston McKennie admittedly does not consider himself much of a goal-scorer, but he sure was one on Friday.
A record-breaking one at that.
The U.S. Men’s National Team destroyed Cuba, 7-0, in a Concacaf Nations League match on Friday night, and the game’s biggest protagonist was arguably McKennie. The midfielder not only scored the winner 31 seconds into the lopsided game, but netted the fastest hat-trick in USMNT history by clinically putting away three chances inside the opening 13 minutes.
“One of my strengths I guess has always been able to arrive in the box late or find ways to get into the box,” said McKennie, who beat Brian McBride’s 2002 hat-trick record of 21 minutes. “Luckily today the ball found my foot in the right spots. Like I’ve said before many times and I can’t reiterate it enough, it was a great team effort. I couldn’t have done it without (my teammates).”
The 21-year-old McKennie’s post-game remarks were not simply a case of him just being humble. His three goals during the USMNT‘s torrid start vs. the overmatched Cubans had as much to do with his teammates, as well as some poor defending, as it did him.
Of course, McKennie had to get into position and make sure he was clinical with his chances. Still, each of his tallies came via him finishing plays off from in close following crosses from the right flank rather than individual moments of magic.
Nonetheless, in scoring his first international hat trick, the Schalke youngster showcased one of his strongest attributes: crashing the penalty area with late runs.
“You don’t see players do it that consistently for midfielders,” said USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter. “When you look at goals of top teams, a lot of the goals are coming from forwards and wingers. When you have a midfielder that can score goals and arrive in the penalty box like that, it gives you another dimension, it makes your team that much better.
“We’re really happy with Weston’s performance, more so his interpretation of the concepts of using the right moments to arrive in the box but also get behind the back line. All those things were good.”
McKennie’s contributions were not just limited to the three goals he scored in quick succession. He also dished out an assist to Jordan Morris in the ninth minute, and helped set up a Cuba own goal in the 37th with a clever and skillful back heel pass into space for Morris to run onto.
His influence on the game was a big reason why the Americans were up 6-0 at halftime, and why Berhalter could afford the luxury of substituting both McKennie and Morris off at halftime. That likely will not be what most people remember, though.
Not on a night when the USMNT won so convincingly. Not on a night when McKennie scored so quickly. Not on a night when McKennie found the back of the net so frequently.
“Scoring a goal for any team is like a breath of fresh air, a weight off the shoulders a bit to know, ‘Okay, you’ve got the first goal now, play your style, do what you can,” said McKennie. “I think we didn’t want to stop there. We wanted to keep going because goals matter in this competition. We talked about it, that it doesn’t matter the opponent, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, that we want to score as many as we can.
“I think we did that very well tonight.”