After making three straight starts for Bundesliga side Schalke, American midfielder Weston McKennie has quickly emerged as a rising young U.S. prospect.
The growing excitement from American fans has led to McKennie being a player many were hoping to see called into the U.S. national team training camp for October's World Cup qualifiers, despite the fact he has never been in a USMNT camp before. One person who had no problem with coach Bruce Arena choosing to leave out the 19-year-old is McKennie himself.
"We have the [World Cup] qualification in play right now and I can understand if I don’t get a call right away because it’s pretty risky to call an unfamiliar face in such an important time," McKennie told Goal . "If I'm mad about that, that’s pretty selfish because of course I would want to be there, but I also understand the decisions that he made because it’s what’s best for the team and the country."
McKennie, an FC Dallas academy product, has enjoyed a whirlwind ride since leaving the U.S. and joining the German club a little more than a year ago. In that time he has made a rapid rise from the Schalke U-19 team to the first team, having earned himself a new five-year contract in the process.
McKennie has also begun to earn buzz as a U.S. prospect, and while he understood not being called in for this month's crucial qualifiers, he also believes he has the ability to soon be a part of the national team.
"I think I’m pretty close. Time will tell," McKennie said. "If I keep performing at Schalke, then it could be closer than expected."
McKennie is an intriguing prospect for the U.S. not only because of his age, but also because of his position as a defensive midfielder, a role in need of new options in the player pool. With the 2018 World Cup a year away, McKennie has suddenly been pegged as a prospect who just might break his way into the team and play in Russia 2018 at the age of 20 (assuming the U.S. qualifies).
As far-fetched as that may sound, McKennie believes it's a possibility, though he has to keep making the most of his opportunities at Schalke in order to break into Arena's squad.
"I don’t think many people would have thought that in my first year as a professional that I would start three games, back-to-back, in the Bundesliga," McKennie said. "It all depends on the coach and if he trusts you and gives you the chance. Things can happen a lot quicker than you think, but they can also not happen. I think [the World Cup] is a realistic opportunity for me."