Weston McKennie missed two World Cup qualifiers in September as punishment for violating team rules while on U.S. men’s national team duty, and as far as head coach Gregg Berhalter is concerned, the Juventus midfielder has done the time for his transgressions, and it is time to turn the page.
McKennie’s inclusion in the USMNT squad for the October World Cup qualifiers comes just three weeks after he was sent home for violating team COVID protocols, and
“As far as I’m concerned, this is something that’s done,” Berhalter said of McKennie’s He’s still going to be held held accountable for his behavior, everybody’s going to be held accountable, but this isn’t something that we hold on guys, and that’s not the type of culture we have in the group, and it won’t be moving forward.
“So, Weston’s back in,” Berhalter said. “We had good conversations with him and he’s focused on helping the team win a game.”
McKennie was held out of the USMNT’s qualifier against Canada on September 7, and then eventually sent home, for violating a pair of team rules when, according to an ESPN report, he went out in Nashville and then brought a guest back to the team hotel, which violated team COVID protocols.
McKennie’s transgression kept him out of the USMNT’s eventual 1-1 draw with Canada, and a 4-1 road win at Honduras.
After the September qualifiers there was some question about how long McKennie would be kept out of the USMNT picture, though he returned to Juventus and promptly started in the team’s first match after those qualifiers.
“Like any player, you talk through it, and you work through and the player takes responsibility,” Berhalter said. “And I think there is part of it that you move forward and you say, okay, it’s it’s a clean slate for you.
“There’s a certain amount of trust that that Western needs to rebuild with the group, and he’s willing to do that, and I think that’s the important thing.”
McKennie was the subject of widespread criticism for his actions, which when grouped with a previous suspension from Juventus for hosting a party in Italy and violating Italian COVID protocols, painted a picture of an immature player rather than the team leader he had been considered prior to September.
“The one thing I didn’t love how this whole thing got spun is just the lack of tolerance, the lack of understanding, for a player’s situation,” Berhalter said. “We have a young group and this group needs to learn. I think we’re way too quick to condemn people and not really understand a player’s perspective.
“Listen, his behavior was unacceptable, he took responsibility for it, and we move on,” Berhalter said. “We really do move on. Will he be held accountable in the future? Absolutely. That’s going to be part of it, and he understands that, the group understands that.”
McKennie should slide right back into a starting role with the USMNT, and his presence will be even more vital to a team set to be without top attacking stars Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna. McKennie has been battling through a difficult season at Juventus, where consistent playing time has been difficult to come by. He played 15 minutes in Juventus’ UEFA Champions League win against Chelsea on Wednesday after playing just nine minutes in a Serie A win against Sampdoria on Sunday.
“He’s a top quality player,” Berhalter said. “We’re still waiting for him to hit the top form with Juventus. We know he can do it. We’ve seen him do it in the past. They’re working with him hard, he’s working hard on his game, and we’re confident he’s going to get to a good spot.”