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On USMNT: Did Weston McKennie get a raw deal in Player of the Year voting?

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When Christian Pulisic was announced as the winner of the 2021 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year on Saturday, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. After all, winning a UEFA Champions League title and scoring winning goals against Mexico on two occasions was enough to ensure the Chelsea star would secure the third Player of the Year award and there wasn’t going to be very much argument, especially in a year when fans were allowed to make up 15 percent of the voting.

What came as a bit of a surprise was seeing how the top three shook out. Matt Turner’s breakout 2021 was rewarded with a second-place finish while Brenden Aaronson finished in third place in the voting.

Missing from the top three was Weston McKennie, who successfully earned a starting role at Juventus under two different managers, and delivered some of the biggest USMNT performances of the year, most notably in the UEFA Nations League final, but still finished outside of the top three, in fourth place.

So how did the 2020 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year finish outside the top three in what was arguably a better year for him than the year he actually won the award?

It isn’t tough to figure out. McKennie’s suspension from the USMNT for September’s World Cup qualifiers against Canada and Honduras left a bad impression among voters, who clearly let it sway them into dropping McKennie lower on their ballots.

Some will argue that Turner and Aaronson are deserving top-three finishers, and you can certainly understand why. Turner played a key role in the USMNT’s Gold Cup triumph, played well during a stretch of four World Cup qualifying starts, set a new USMNT record for shutouts in a calendar year, and also won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year on his way to helping the New England Revolution win the Supporters’ Shield with a record-setting season.

As for Aaronson, the Red Bull Salzburg midfielder racked up the numbers for the USMNT, registering four goals and three assists, both tied for team-highs in 2021. He also helped Red Bull Salzburg win a league and cup double, and also qualify for the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League.

Those are two strong cases for a top-three finish, to be sure, but McKennie’s is arguably strong enough to deserve some winning votes. He was vital in the USMNT’s Nations League win over Mexico, and also in the team’s World Cup qualifying win vs. El Tri in November. The team finished 3-0-1 in the four World Cup qualifiers McKennie started in.

Then there was McKennie’s success on the club level, where he established himself as a regular for Juventus both in the second half of last season, under Andrea Pirlo, and the current campaign under Massimiliano Allegri. He has contributed six goals and three assists in 2021 for the Bianconeri, earning more consistent minutes for a top European team than any other American, including Pulisic.

Remove the names from their 2021 resumes, and take the suspension out of the equation, and you could argue McKennie’s case for the award is pretty comparable to Pulisic’s, but in the end the distance between the two in the voting was considerable.

McKennie deserved better in the voting, but the final results do show that he still has some work to do to restore standing his lost when he was suspended in September, even though his play for both club and country since September has been outstanding.


What did you think of how the U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year voting shook out? Think McKennie deserved to finish higher? Feel like McKennie still has more to prove? Who would you have put in your top three for the award?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. well, can’t get suspended in the middle of World Cup qualis, period. But, Weston’s play when in the uni has been mostly fantastic and self evident; he covers like a six on the counter although he plays much higher in attack with his ability to get by on the dribble and push the end line to create for himself and others along with his ability to finish and make smart runs, and particularly his threat in the air in the box. he has a unique style with first touches into the air; at first I thought his 1st touch on those were off, but having watched him now for some time looks like he does it on purpose and likes to play with the ball off the ground in tight spaces, and I’d say he’s pretty good at it

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  2. I would say Weston may have won if not for the suspension from the natl team. Pulisic did have a great year, but lost alot of playing time to injuries.

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    • If you’re not first who cares?

      That said, Weston has been inconsistent for the USMNT mixing forgettable games with games where he takes over and drives the team.

      Is that Weston or is it the USMNT? It’s probably both as many players fail to replicate their club best with this version of the USMNT.

      At his best, he is a young Arturo Vidal. a box to box ball winning terror who can score every once in a while. Anyone who thinks the USMNT will not need the best version of Weston if they get to Qatar is delusional.

      There isn’t anyone in the USMNT player pool to touch him when he is on.

      Same with Juve but he isn’t always “on” there either.

      This season is big for him. He needs to win over Allegri and become Vidal 2.0.
      Or, if gets the rumoured trade to Spurs, he needs to make a huge splash in London. and then , hopefully, have a great World Cup

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  3. No, Wes 4g 3a in league play his club had its worst finish in years. Two NT goals both against Mexico. We also forgive Wes for breaking team protocols but that shouldn’t be forgotten just 3 months later. CP 4g 6a club finished 4th, but won Champions League 2g 2a in CL. CP had 3 NT goals including both winners vs Mexico. Tight but the CL does it for me and with the behavior issue seems a no brainer. Is Wes more valuable, maybe but is that just Wes or is some of that weaker back ups at his position than Pulisic’s.

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