Even when wearing a mask and hoodie, the 22-year-old American Weston McKennie gets recognized when he goes out in Turin, his home since he joined Italian power Juventus from Germany's Schalke 04 in August of 2020.
On a rare homecoming to Texas, after his first season playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, McKennie is visiting FC Dallas, where he played from age 11 until joining Schalke 04 at age 18.
"In Italy, whenever I walk in the city, which I don't do very often, I get stopped every 10 meters," he said. "It's OK. I understand that's part of the profession. But in Italy, they follow you for 200 meters. They follow you into stores and take photos of you."
McKennie's not complaining. He was asked during a press conference, ahead of the MLS Next Playoffs/Showcase hosted by FC Dallas, to describe celebrity life in Italy and how he's enjoying his stay in North Texas.
Brackets: MLS Next Playoffs
"Being with my family, visiting my friends, playing pickup at the Pit," said McKennie. "When I come back, it's a feeling I don't really get over in Europe. I get to be myself, like a normal kid from Dallas."
McKennie has had time only for one visit home a year -- his winter break last December was four days -- and this his longest break in four years. On this visit, he reunited with his FC Dallas academy coaches Chris Hayden (Vice President of FC Dallas youth) and Luchi Gonzalez, now the first-team head coach.
"I still brag about our 2015 U15/16 [Development Academy] national championship season," he said. "We went undefeated, 0 goals scored against us, in the playoffs, and won it out in Cali. That's something I get into arguments with some of the other academy guys in the national team."
FC Dallas leads MLS in signing homegrown players. McKennie went a different route, debuting for Schalke at age 18, then joining Juventus after 75 Bundesliga and six UEFA Champions League appearances.
While McKennie helped the USA win the Concacaf Nationals League in June, four of his Juventus teammates went to the Copa America (with Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay) and nine of his Juventus teammates went to the European Championship (for Italy, Turkey, Wales, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Portugal). One, of course, is the European Championship leading scorer, Ronaldo.
"The first time I saw Ronaldo," McKennie said, "I was walking to the physio room to do my medical and I saw him come out in his underwear. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is really him.' I did everything I could to act normal and not be a total fan boy, because he's going to be a teammate.
"It's been a true blessing to play with him. He's taught me a lot of things: discipline, professionalism, drive, hunger. Things I felt I had, but things I also needed to improve, and he's helped me with that."
McKennie was born in Texas, lived in Germany from age 6 to 9 while his father served in the U.S. Air Force, and started playing soccer because there was no football for his age in Germany. Shortly after returning to Texas, he joined FC Dallas at age 11 and played on its U-13 team.
"I thank FC Dallas for so much," McKennie said. "For believing in me, especially through the hard times. ... They helped me when I went through rough times with the U-17s. When I came back, they helped put the pieces back together, mentally, emotionally, and physically as well."
"FC Dallas set a real professional environment for me. We trained on Field 2, and Field 1 is literally right across from you. You're able to see the pros over there. You're thinking, it's so close. It's right there. So you gave every you could to make sure that you'd get to that field one day.
"Obviously they helped me so well that I was able to make the jump over to Europe instead."
"What he learned from Christian Ronaldo". Wow, I couldn't wait read to some of the Ronaldo's pointers, something interesting about the game which he employs as tools, himself, which could benefit the reader/coaches of SA. Instead, I was so disappointed in the one sentence that was applied to what McKennie learned- "discipline, professionalism, drive and hunger".....THAT"S IT ??????.
"Discipline, professionalism, drive and hunger", doesn't give the reader much to go on. And this is my main complaint that I have about American soccer journalism. This country ,unfortunately, is historically behind in soccer growth/info/education, as compared to the other countries world-wide. The average soccer fan and journalist in Europe knows so much more about the game than average American fan. In addition there is a higher tier of fan like coaches, players, or just students of the game that like to know a little more about the game when reading an interview.
Naturally, not every interview can be educative and insightful which is understandable, for you come across that as well in Holland, but in Holland there are abundance of interviews that do cover new things,details, insightful aspect, even if it is a couple of sentences ,a paragraph or more. But the problem we have here is that American journalists lack the DNA, the green thumb like in gardening, the feel of the game in order to give more meat to the story or interview. Can you imagine ,for example, if Nene Cubillas, or a Rodney Marsh would interview a player ,the 'shop-talk' that might be thrown around that a reader could learn from.Of course, I don't that type of deep interviews but we could at least drop a couple aspects here and there. We are at a developmental stage in the US where we need to learn more insightful aspects about the game,especially for those fans of a higher tier. That type of educational info ,sooner or later, tends flow downward to benefit all levels of soccer.
I would recommend that American soccer journalist when interviewing make sure they at least go a little deeper into the material, throw a bone, but not an empty bag full of air. In my posts, I always try to give some soccer info to whomever reads it, that would elucidate or learn something new about the game.
Here are some interesting Tidbits about Ronaldo. As a youth, when playing pickup he always made sure he played against youth that were 2-3 years older than he was. MIXED AGES is the SECRET to developing better for it makes one think faster, moves quicker, handle the ball faster and able to take the bumps and grinds, learn tactical and technical tricks from older players and it also develops a good competitive instinct. Look at all these aforementioned aspects, the licensed youth coaches, today, takes these aspects and work at them singularly. How do teach a kid to think faster? or tell a kid you have to run faster or dribble faster??? That is not how you develop a youth. It has to be done 'holistically' by placing a youth in an ENVIRONMENT where he is forced to play faster, move faster, think faster, etc. and that is not done by developing kids playing in the same age group.
OUR WHOLE BASIS OF TRAINING AND DEVELOPING OUR YOUTH IS OUT OF WHACK!!!
As a pro, Ronaldo would show up for practice at the stadium, one hour ahead of time, and leave an hour later after practice. In those extra hours he would work on skills, crosses ,shots, corners, dribble moves, all the things that can improve him individually. Even when he was young, he hated to lose and made sure he would win everything, table tennis,darts, biljards,sprinting,tennis, etc...any competitive aspect. His attitude on the field was ,"I'm better than you " and ' I work hard to improve myself to get that way.' How many MLS player work diligently to improve themselves , like Ronaldo, for they seriously need some technical improvements....Even during vacation, off season, Ronaldo made sure he worked on his body. He is one of the few who come close to being in shape before season begins....
At the age of 6-7 he was doing sit ups and push ups, he knew he wanted to be a pro. He hated losing ,just like Cruyff, as a kid. His older brother Hennie once stated that if Johan was losing in checkers, the game was not to be finished for somehow the checkerboard will accidentally fall on the floor. Ronaldo has raised the bar for himself at every level. At Real Madrid, he does 50push ups and situps on his own, which forced the other teammates to follow. He doesn't drink anything but water, lies in a bathtub with ice after the game to aide his muscles. This is where the 'drive and hunger' comes in as player.
At Sporting Lisbon, his youth trainer of the B-team, Carlos Bruno, once went to Ajax to study how the youth were developed. This was in the early 90's when van Gaal ran the show at Ajax. Bruno was not impressed by the youth who were playing 2 or 3 touch soccer without being told to play that way. This was not good for it lacked 'individualism'. Bruno was right, along with Johan Cruyff,who blamed Van Gaal for the lack of good players and who predicted accurately a downfall of Ajax due to lack of "individualists" coming through they Ajax system. Fortunately, Ronaldo's coach was a believer in 'individualism' and took this as a warning for Sporting's youth development....
Ronaldo, at the age of 11, was tired of hearing, he looked 'thin' ,no muscles. He would sneak out at night , out of the youth dorm at Sporting to train on his own in the stadium wanting to be the best in the 'best in the world' ,which he told his teammates, at the age of 15, then.
When Ronaldo left Manchester Utd, he had to change his game, from an all-around type of player, with frivolity, to a more serious one that specialized in scoring goals. In other words ,he had to work on 'one-touch' finishing, his timing and his positioning around the goal and when to enter the penalty , for example. (I was hoping this aspect, would have been asked in the interview with McKennie, especially coming from the second line.)
Ronaldo ,basically picks his spot to excell like he does at Juventus. He decided at Real Madrid he will only excell in the big games ,where he's needed, not so much the mediocre or little games. That is why he wants to peak between the month of february and July. He has a plan to follow ....Talk about Professionalism......
This is how you should see the difference between Messi and Ronaldo. You begin to watch Messi when he has the ball around midfield for you don't know what is going to happen and with Ronaldo you begin to watch him when he's near the penalty area......
Frank a lot of clubs do just what you talking about.
they stage pickup games with younger teams vs older teams.
my daughter when she played club they scrimmage against
same age boys teams all the time.
same with my HS varsitygirls play against boys varsity.
and yes it's very good especially for the girls but also put a bit of fire onto the boys if they get beat on the field.
so it's done all the time on the pitches.
Uffe, I'm glad you have experienced it in some manner, but it is not about younger teams playing older teams for that doesn't work. It is like the USWNT playing a boys U15 boys team and getting beat. Pick up has to be mixed ages on both sides playing each other . it is not about one age group playing an older age group....that is not how it is done; and besides that is not effective
McKinnie is the true leader of that USMNT.
if you watched concacaf v Mexico. He imposed his will.
it's what they've been missing. He's a true alpha dog.
clearly he learned much of that between Dallas, Schalke and Juve. But, he also had coaches who believed, nurtured..and played him even when he wasn't his best. Subjective nature can't be overstated...
Frank, thanks for the Ronaldo history lesson. He is a man among men in this sport. Arguably the best of his generation. You bring up great points about the lack of drive and ambition in the MLS. I have commented in other stories that the players that play abroad are just taken to a whole higher level of play, vision and ability. I honestly think the team Europe based squad is beyong Greg Berhalter's ability to coach. He is trying to get them to play his system and style of play. This is ridiculous. Good coaches know you build the system around the players and their talents and strengths. MLS star players play no matter what they do or how they perform. In Europe your butt is going to the bench if you don't perform. The man behind you is as good as you.
John, Great Points. You're right our European players are beyond GB's knowledge and you're right you don't force players to play around the system you like not a system that fits them....
I share the same view of the MNT coach, but in fairness he is a good coach for CONCACAF, for MLS, and for lower tier teams in Europe. He isn't up to successfully coaching a top tier team, but then few coaches in the world are.
I try to think of what US coaches could do a better job with the MNT (ignoring the fact that USSF has stripped the coaches of any control over how the national team plays). The short list of possibles I come up with is Arena, Bradley, and Ellis. Not that any of them have ever done that before but these 3 have one common ability. They have all gotten the best out of the players that they coached.
Maybe they could do that with better MNT players too. If USSF let them. The kind of coach we need is not going to accept that USSF managers dictate to them how the team plays. Catch 22.