Weston McKennie, the American Dream and the 2022 World Cup

Weston McKennie, the American Dream and the 2022 World Cup
By
Bagga Wilks

 

         The United States Women’s Soccer World Cup Team went to France in the summer of 2019 and once again demonstrated their hegemony in women’s soccer. They returned from France triumphantly and were given a ticker tape parade in New York City. They had captured the hearts of America.

         The United States men’s national soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. They had qualified for seven consecutive World Cups before failing to qualify in 2018. Their new coach, Gregg Berhalter, knows that the U.S men’s national soccer team must qualify for the World Cup in Qatar for 2022.

         The United States Football Federation has made gallant efforts to make the United States a competitive force in international football. There are academies established throughout the country where talents are identified at a young age and those talents are honed under professional guidance.

         From the 1960s, the United States has struggled to establish and sustain a men’s professional league. Major League Soccer (MLS) is now quite established and in some franchises attracts loyal enthusiastic fans. Although the MLS has made great progress, it still has a long way to go to be considered in the same league as the top European leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy and the Bundesliga in Germany.

         World Soccer has become an international sport. Like the world economy, the top leagues and clubs reflect the internationalization of the sport. National teams in order to be competitive must have their best players competing in the top leagues of the world. National teams like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Nigeria, Ghana, etcetera, have their top players competing in the best leagues and playing for the premier clubs.

         American soccer went through a drought from 1950 to 1990 when the United States failed to qualify for a World Cup spot. The drought ended in 1990. Although not regarded yet as one of the top teams in the World, the presence of a competitive American World Cup team has become an integral part of the soccer landscape competing for the coveted World Cup trophy.

         The United States soccer has reached a point of take-off and the burgeoning talent is not staying at home playing in the MLS, but American players are being recruited by some of the dominant European clubs. What is ironical is that there has emerged the peculiar German connection. An aggregation of American talent is now displaying their soccer prowess in the Bundesliga in Germany. National coach Berhalter has already identified these players and will build his 2022 World Cup team around players applying their profession in Europe and many of these players will feature in the game against Mexico on Friday, September 6, 2019.

         America’s outcome in the 2022 qualifiers in CONCACAF will pivot around players like Christian Pulisic, formerly of Borussia Dortmund in Germany and now with Chelsea in the Premier League and Weston McKennie who now plays for Schalke in the Bundesliga.

         Some of the yesteryear established players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have retired from the game and for an interim their departure left a void that is now being filled by the Tyler Adams, the Pulisics and the McKennies, representing a new generation of talent capable of competing on the world stage.

         As Donovan demonstrated during his career playing for the United States, impact players make a difference particularly in big tournaments. Weston McKennie, the midfielder, has the talent to be an impact player for the United States men’s team.

         McKennie is an incredible versatile player who for his first professional season with Schalke played in many different positions but he is at his best when playing in midfield. What is ironic is that McKennie lived with his parents in Germany in his embryonic years and started playing the game on German soil. When he returned to the United States, he spent most of those developmental years at F.C. Dallas. He was a central figure on youth national teams and his work rate and versatility caught the eye of football scouts at Schalke. He has been quite impressive as a Schalke player and has been rewarded this summer with a new five year contract.

         Weston McKennie is living his American dream playing for Schalke in Germany and contributing to a United States Men’s National team comprised of players performing in the big leagues in Europe.

         The United States cannot just aspire to qualify for 2022 but need to be successful in the round robin and be a force in the knockout stage. With players like McKennie reaching their zenith in the third decade of the twenty-first century, the United States Men’s National team might not be able to emulate the Women’s National Team but they will ensure that the world recognizes America’s national team as an international competitive force. It is not farfetched for the new Berhalter squad to dream of winning the coveted World Cup that will take place in in the United States, Canada and Mexico jointly in 2026.