Almost seven years after first crossing paths at a U-14 national team camp, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie are on the verge of starting together in the heart of the U.S. national team midfield for the first time.
Pulisic and McKennie are expected to start for the U.S. in Monday's Memorial Day friendly against Bolivia, and it will signal the first time the close friends will be on the same team since their youth national team days. It is a reunion that has been put off by Pulisic's prolonged absence from the national team since last October's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. McKennie made his national team debut shortly thereafter, scoring the winner against Portugal in November.
Pulisic and McKennie spend plenty of time together off the field in Germany because they play for nearby rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. Now, with their Bundesliga seasons behind them, they will have the chance to form a partnership that could be the centerpiece of the U.S. midfield for the next decade.
"We’ve talked about [playing together] a lot," McKennie told Goal. "I think one of the biggest things is I think we’ll be on the same page quicker than later because we both play in the Bundesliga. Our chemistry is unreal. I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. I see him twice, maybe three times a week.
"If we end up on the same pitch against Bolivia I think it will be a good connection," McKennie said. "He’s more of the offensive type, I’m more of the defensive type. I think it’ll be a good balance. Me give him balls, let him do his thing, create, and I think it will fit better than expected."
Though they may not have played together with the USMNT, they pair have been teammates on the youth national team level. That experience, combined with all the time they've spent together over the past year, should help them find a good comfort level on the field.
"I know Weston well. I played with him since Under-14 national team camp," Pulisic said at Sunday's press conference previewing the USA-Bolivia friendly. "To get to play with him now on the full men’s national team, it’s definitely an exciting time. I’m definitely looking forward to it."
Caretaker U.S. coach Dave Sarachan hasn't revealed what lineup he will use in Monday's friendly, but with a three-man central midfield very likely, a Pulisic-McKennie pairing seems to be a safe bet, especially after Pulisic arrived in U.S. camp on Thursday unscathed following his appearance for Borussia Dortmund in a friendly last Tuesday against Los Angeles FC.
While Pulisic should slot into his familiar attacking midfield role, and McKennie should be deployed as a defensive midfielder, McKennie does provide more of an attacking element for the USMNT than he does for his club team. At times, the two Bundesliga standouts will likely be leading the attack together.
"I think I’ll take a little bit more risks here than I do at Schalke," McKennie said. "In Schalke, I know my role. Here, I know my role. In Schalke, you know which players are good at what. I’m not going to try and step in and be the next (Schalke playmaker) Amine Harit because Amine is the way he is. He’s good at what he does.
"Here, I think I have a little bit more room to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m a six, but I also have another six next to me, I can be the one to go forward. I can take the initiative to do that," McKennie said. "I think I’ll probably try to get more into the attack and maybe create some combinations with Christian."
Pulisic and McKennie have come a long way since that first meeting almost seven years ago, but U.S. fans will be hoping Monday's friendly provides a tasty preview of a partnership they are hoping can help lead the U.S. as the national team rebuilds and regroups from its recent qualifying failure.