When Weston McKennie arrived in Italy last summer for a medical ahead of his loan (now permanent transfer) from Schalke to Juventus, he was about to enter a whole new world.
Sure, he had accomplished plenty at Schalke. They finished second in the Bundesliga one year, rubbing elbows with giants Bayern Munich and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. But Juventus is a superclub that fields superstars, none bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Naturally, McKennie remembers his first meeting with the Portuguese legend quite well.
“I was walking to the physio room to do my medicals then I saw him come out, he was in his underwear," McKennie, 22, told media on Thursday. "I was just like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is really him.’ I did everything I could to act normal, not be a total fanboy because he was going to be my teammate.”
McKennie, a regular starter with Juventus during his first season at the club, appeared in 46 matches across all competitions while tallying six goals and three assists. He won Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles, learning from Ronaldo along the way.
“It’s been a true blessing being able to play with him," McKennie said. "He’s taught me a lot of things like discipline, professionalism and drive. These are things I’ve had, but needed to improve. He’s helped me with that.”
McKennie was speaking with media ahead of the MLS Next Cup Playoffs and Showcase, which begin this Friday in the Dallas area with 128 teams chasing inaugural MLS NEXT Cup titles in the U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19 age groups.
The FC Dallas academy graduate was glad to be back in town, having grown up in Texas before departing for German Bundesliga dreams with Schalke.
“This is where everything started for me," McKennie said. "I want to thank FC Dallas so much for believing me, through hard times. I just wanted to be back here, give back to the community where I started.”
McKennie has even joined a few pickup games around the city unannounced, a US men's national team standout playing alongside unexpecting locals. It's a feeling he enjoys and misses while abroad.
“Juventus are the biggest team in Italy, so whenever I walk into the city – which I don’t do often – I get stopped every 10 meters," McKennie said. "It’s one of those things, I enjoy being out and interacting with people, but I enjoy my privacy. Even when I’d wear a mask and hoodie, people still recognize me. In Italy, people will follow you for like 200 yards and walk into stores you’re going into. It’s part of the professional [life], but it’s one of those things where I kind of want to be by myself.
His dogs are enjoying a bit of a break from the spotlight, too.
"Even my dogs in Italy are recognizable," McKennie said with a laugh. "So it’s hard to get out.”