"Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real,” beamed a teenager living an American Dream in Germany.
19-year-old Weston McKennie is yet to wake up.
The 2017-18 season has been the Texas-born youngster’s coming-out party. And he’s thrown quite the shindig.
After making his senior debut at the tail-end of last season, Schalke’s latest wonderkid has now racked up a further 18 Bundesliga appearances this season in what has been a campaign of firsts for the boy who left for Germany without even kicking a ball in his homeland.
His decision to turn down a university scholarship in order to turn pro and join FC Dallas is already looking a gamble well worth taking – as was his decision to begin his professional career on the other side of the world.
After all, he was heading for familiar territory. McKennie spent three years in Germany between the ages of 6 and 9, and that’s when he caught the bug.
“When I moved to Germany, it was the only sport that they really played there,” McKennie told US Soccer. “I started playing like that, I fell in love with the sport: the culture, the fans, how big it is over there, how they support it in Europe.”
Crucially, his previous experiences in Europe helped ease the adaptation process.
“I feel very much at home here,” he told Schalke’s official website. “I would never have come close to going anywhere else, if I was to know how perfect Schalke was going to be for me.”
And McKennie is looking perfect for them, too. His youthful exuberance has made him a popular figure in the Schalke dressing room.
“I’m always going to dance, I’m always going to sing. It’s just the person I am,” he told the Bundesliga's YouTube channel.
Yet to find his natural position, the teenager is the ultimate all-singing, all- dancing modern utility man.
“He can play anywhere in midfield, in front of the defence or behind the attack; at centre-back in a back three or a back four,” said Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco.
McKennie has recently flourished in a defensive midfield role, adding some bite to a team blessed with the attacking thrust of Yevhen Konoplyanka and Max Meyer, not to mention the creative genius of Nabil Bentaleb.
He has averaged almost two tackles per-90-minutes this season and a respectable passing accuracy of 71.47 per cent in the tough-tackling, dynamic Bundesliga. McKennie has also managed 61 recoveries and 14 interceptions in his 10 starts.
“I like to play rough, going into tackles. To do whatever I can to make my team win,” he says. And his coach has most certainly been impressed, dubbing him an “aggressive leader.”
But there’s more to his game than just aggression, as he displayed quite emphatically on another big night for the teenager when he made his international debut in November.
Picking up the ball to the left of goal, he first bamboozled Portugal defender Ricardo Ferreira before sending goalkeeper Beto the wrong way to finish with a calmness well beyond his tender years.
The next step was to make it to this year’s World Cup in Russia, but McKennie was handed a rude awakening when the USA shocked the world by failing to qualify.
But with the USMNT set to take stock and prepare for a new dawn, young Weston McKennie may yet have a big part to play. The dream lives on.