ORLANDO, Fla. – With Friday's match against Canada looming large over the US men’s national team (7 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN in US; OneSoccer.ca in Canada), the biggest question surrounding the squad is who will step up with star attacker Christian Pulisic out with injury?
Throughout the week, many of the players and head coach Gregg Berhalter have pointed to another young star in the making: Weston McKennie.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who has been starting for Bundesliga side Schalke 04, has been described as something of a leader among the younger players in the national team.
“He's a competitor. He's a guy that isn't going to be perfect, but he makes up for it with effort and competing,” Berhalter said. “A great person and a very talented soccer player.”
Noted defender Reggie Cannon of McKennie, his former colleague in the FC Dallas academy: “[He’s] someone who always has your back. If you lose the ball, you know he's going to be the first one running to the ball. He’s going to be the one saying ‘keep your head up.’ He's a leader, and that's something I can learn from, everyone can learn from to up their game and be a collective group, rather than 11 individuals."
Cannon and McKennie developed a bond playing together at FCD before the latter left for Germany in 2016, a massive factor in Cannon’s praise and trust in his teammate.
“I grew up with Weston. I know him the best,” Cannon said. “I always feel like he's someone who will always have my back no matter the situation.”
McKennie himself, however, doesn’t see himself as a leader by title. He feels that his play on the field defines him and that at the end of the match, his performance in games should speak for themselves.
“For me personally, I think a lot of the players have to kind of step into that leadership role even though you're young,” McKennie said, “I don't think really your age has to do anything with being a leader. You’ve got to see it on the field who's prepared for it and who's not.
“I think for me personally I think on the field I'm more of a person that likes to show my presence on the field. I talk I go into tackles, I play with the crest on my heart, and I give everything for it. I guess if you see that as a leader, then that's what people see it as, but for me personally, I just go ahead and try to give my best, and hopefully it just rubs off on my teammates next to me.”