Texan teen Weston McKennie, now a Bundesliga starter, on keys to his quick rise and his off-field interests

It seemed like a risky move at the time, when he moved to Germany in August 2016. Texan Weston McKennie was a U.S. Soccer Development Academy MVP player at FC Dallas, whose youth program he joined in 2009. But instead of going pro with FC Dallas, McKennie signed with Schalke 04, which was coming off a fifth-place finish in the 2015-16 Bundesliga season.

The club whose youth program spawned 2014 German World Cup winners Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Benedikt Hoewedes, had sold another one of its youth products, Leroy Sane, to Manchester City for a reported $50 million.

Could McKennie crack the first-team lineup at a club with the cash buy top talent in Germany and abroad?

In his first year, McKennie, along with fellow Americans Haji Wright and Nick Taitague, helped Schalke’s U-19s reach the A Junior Bundesliga semifinals, where it fell on penalty kicks to Bayern Munich. On the last day of the 2016-17 season, McKennie made his Bundesliga debut as a 77th-minute sub in a 1-1 tie at Inglostadt.

This season, he appeared in five of Schalke 04’s first seven games, starting its last three as a defensive midfielder. On Sept. 27, a month after his 19th birthday, McKennie he signed a contract extension with Schalke 04 through the 2021-22 season.

Photo courtesy of Schalke 04

One big difference between FC Dallas and Schalke 04 -- FC Dallas averages 15,000 fans while Schalke ranks third in Bundesliga attendance behind Broussia Dortmund (81,000) and Bayern Munich (75,000) with an average of 61,500.

His first start came in a 3-0 loss to five-time defending champion Bayern Munich at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena in front of 62,271 fans.

"I was a little nervous at first," McKennie said of the sellout crowd, "but they’re our fans and knowing they all believe in you made it easier for me."

After McKennie’s performance against Bayern, Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said, “The beauty is: the sky is the limit for him and he will bring us much joy.”

McKennie started Schalke’s next two games, a 2-0 loss at then second-place Hoffenheim and last weekend’s 1-1 tie with Bayer Leverkusen.

Schalke young first-year coach Domenico Tedesco says of McKennie, “He has the will to offensively defend."

Joining Schalke was somewhat of a homecoming for McKennie, who lived in Germany from age 6 to 9 when his father was stationed at the U.S. Army base in Kaiserslautern.

Photo courtesy of Schalke 04

Weston McKennie on ...

Early soccer memory
When I moved to Germany during my first days, I went across the street and I was trying to play soccer, but with a softball. And I was kicking against the wall, because that’s what the other kids were doing, but with a soccer ball. I ended up joining them and falling in love with the sport.

Playing football and soccer in the USA
When we returned, I played football and soccer. I played running back, quarterback, kicker. My coach would say, “Can you get an assist or score a couple goals and give us a lead, and then you can leave and go to your football game.” So I would be changing in the car on the way to the football game.

Getting recognized on the street
More and more I’m recognized in the streets and if they want a photo I try and give it to them, because they’re out there supporting us every game.

Previously living in Germany
I lived in Germany when I was 6 to 9. And it did help because my dad didn’t have us live on base. We lived out in the villages, so it really helped with my German. I moved back to the USA and kind of lost it, but when I returned I refreshed my German.

Hardest adjustment
Because I lived here before, it was quite easy to readjust.

Particularly enjoy about Germany
You encounter so many people and interact with so many people. That’s what I really like.

[Gelsenkirchen is part of the Rhine-Ruhr region, an area four-fifths the size of Connecticut (population: 3,6 million), that with more 11 million people is one of Europe’s most densely populated areas.]

Miss most about Texas
Oh man. The ranches, the cows, my family, the good barbecue.

Making the first team
The key to my success was my really good support system and also the year that I spent with the Schalke U-19s with [coach] Norbert Elgert. He really helped me and it was a very successful time for me. And I believed that I had the work rate to make it.

Photo courtesy of Schalke 04

Favorite soccer team growing up
At World Cup time, my favorite team was Italy. I have an Italy poster in my bedroom back in Texas.

Favorite player
Francesco Totti

Other sports
I don’t follow it that much, but American football. The Washington Redskins are my team for that. Basketball I don’t really follow. Baseball, no.

Favorite movie
The Notebook.”

Favorite book
The Four Agreements

Favorite actor
Denzel Washington

Favorite actress
Blake Lively

Favorite TV show
“Gossip Girl”

Living situation
I actually just found an apartment. Before I was living with Nick Taitague.

FIFA [video game]

Favorite music
I listen to all music types. I really do.

Favorite musical artists?
I like Drake, Little Wayne, Post Malone.

Famous people you’d invited for dinner
Blake Lively and Lionel Messi.

5 comments about "Texan teen Weston McKennie, now a Bundesliga starter, on keys to his quick rise and his off-field interests ".
  1. Wooden Ships, October 3, 2017 at 10:04 a.m.

    Certainly need to have him ready for Russia, assuming we get there. He has the quickness we need in front of the backs.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, October 3, 2017 at 3:57 p.m.

    Every time I read one of these articles I think back to Don Lamb's upbeat descriptions of the current group of young players. Best wishes to them all.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 4, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    Two US players - Timothy Weah and Andrew Carelton - were named in the Guardian's list of 60 best players in world football born in 2000.  And that doesn't count Josh Sargeant, also born that year.  Signs of some progress.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 4, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    Here is the link to the article:

  5. frank schoon, October 5, 2017 at 11:27 a.m.

    Seeing the movie and the books he likes, seems like to me he is a good allround kid. We'll begin to watch and pay attention to him in how he plays

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