Welcome to What’s the USMNT Guy’s Deal, a series where the defector picks a name from among countless amazing American soccer guys playing in Europe and answers the question, What’s the USMNT Guy’s Deal?
As we turn to the World Cup, it’s time to reflect on just how far the USMNT can go in the tournament. There is no denying that they are in a very difficult group, perhaps facing a Gareth Bale-led Wales side in their first and last World Cup game as runners-up in the knockout stages. The winner of the group will meet the second team from the weaker team, and the second will be against the Netherlands. All this will be difficult.
It’s just that, if the USMNT are going to win their second World Cup playoff game, they’ll have to upset a superior team, which means building a winning streak is a valuable exercise. What advantages can the USMNT impose on better teams? No one should expect this team to park the bus and hope that Matt Turner or Zach Steffen will go into Tim Howard mode and save a thousand shots. The US can actually play small, so they don’t have to rely on counterattacks. Nor does Gregg Berhalter play a conservative lineup. A theoretical path to a big-time win would be lost in midfield, with Younus Mussah, Tyler Adams and today’s Guy Weston McKenney running around and destroying things.
Weston McKennie plays for Juventus, one of the most storied clubs in Europe. He was the first American to do so. McKenney followed the same path as Christian Pulisic at the top of his game. Both Pulisic and McKenney lived briefly in Europe when they were six years old—Pulisic in England for a year and McKenney in Germany for five—before returning to the U.S. and playing for local youth teams. Both players finished their youth careers with one season in German academy teams and were promoted to their respective senior teams during their youth careers. They then each played three seasons in the Bundesliga.
McKennie’s exit campaign was one of Schalke’s final seasons in their impressive and short-lived reign as one of the best clubs in Germany. They finished second in the league in 2017-18, and McKenney’s versatility has helped him start two-thirds of Schalke’s league games. A few years later, as Schalke was sliding into mediocrity and wretchedness, McKenney escaped the sinking ship and made it to Turin. Despite, or rather, the rarity, McKenney has established himself as a mainstay for the Old Lady, scoring Champions League goals against both Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. Every summer, I find myself thinking, this is the year McKennie’s technical limitations will sell him to a smaller team from Juve, but he’s still here, still doing his thing, still proving he can hack at the highest level.
Weston McKenney’s Mamma Mia test refers to the following idiotic heuristic to determine whether a US player is good or not.By our pink American standard: Do fans tweet about them lovingly in the local language?
The category name is Weston McKennie Mamma Mia Challenge.
As I said, McKenney is an odd player. Schalke didn’t quite know what to do with him – the Germans used him at various times at centre-back and centre-forward and practically everywhere else. That positioning is more of a Schalke thing than a McKenney thing — he’s played under nine coaches since 2017 — though it’s indicative of his impressive adaptability.
McKenney has enjoyed consistent playing time in some congested midfield positions at Juventus. It’s ironic that McKenney is a world-class passer of the ball and remains a key player for both Andrea Pirlo and Max Allegri, despite bearing no resemblance to the classic creative ball. Medium. His passing stats are ridiculous: among Big Five league midfielders last year, McKenney was 15th in passing attempts at 90, sixth in the 90th percentile for long passes and 13th in the 13th percentile. Passing distance at 90. This suggests a player who cannot build tactical attacks or close lanes with a passing wizard. What McKenney offers, however, is something more unusual and perhaps even more valuable, as long as its weaknesses are properly balanced.
McKenney is a fantastic athlete and runner who is lethal in the air and scores many good goals. His completion percentage is so low in part because he likes to try the difficult pass, which occasionally helps create goals from nowhere. McKenney is a killer ball winner in midfield and despite being pushed further up the pitch by Allegri, he is still winning possession back for his team in dangerous areas. He has a soft touch and can slide defensively with the ball at his feet. McKenney plays with a lot of guys who like to play off the ball and who like to create things, which makes him helpful for those passes and frees up the responsibility of creating things himself. This freedom, combined with McKenney’s keen sense of position, explains why he always seems to pop up in dangerous areas at just the right moment. His stupid win over Mexico is a good description of McKenney’s mentality.
Oh, and the funniest thing about McKenney and Juventus’ seemingly un-American player is that he’s good at MLS-style long throws, allowing Juve to get into the box from dangerous areas. Like a corner kick in slow motion.
The Magnificent Index is a comprehensive and objective metric that analyzes a player’s entire set of skills and abilities, distilling them all into one number that correlates to their ultimate potential and potential to take the title of Magnificent Ten.
McKenney is only 24 years old and has been a professional in Europe for six seasons, so he’ll have 20 of 27.
A version of McKennie who is fully justified in theory is a true world-class player. Guys who run and scrape and dominate like McKenney are hard to come by as decent passers and help make any team in the world better. The problem is that he’s not Negolo Kante or Paul Pogba, and while they have similar athletic gifts, football’s main function is to pass the ball. McKenney has improved since his arrival with Schalke, and may have some room to grow, but then again, even if this is as good as it gets, that’s still pretty good. Tottenham and Liverpool have publicly coveted him for years for a reason, and I’m also a USMNT fan and his skills are especially valuable on a crowded international stage.
A US European corps with right backs to field a full XI is absolute folly. And so it is important to decide whether the USMNT man of the week can play the position or not.
Weston McKennie has played a ridiculous number of positions in his short career in Europe, from the frontline to the last line of defence. According to the positions that track these things, these positions are sorted by minutes played: Midfield, Defensive Midfield, Right Midfield, Attacking Midfield, Left Midfield, Central Back, Striker and finally Right Back.
It’s good to score a goal like the one he scored against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
He is one of the most important players in the team. A team that plays with a lethal front three and cool fullbacks has two man central defenders, but a team that plays wingers only works because the three midfielders can cover the ground of four players. Mussah, McKennie and Adams are the players who open up the system and allow the team to take tactical risks, allowing Sergino Dest to go in front of goal rather than sticking to his marker. .
Unless he’s injured, he starts every game.