Tyler Adams might be the engine of the United States midfield during these Concacaf World Cup qualifiers, but Weston McKennie is the conductor. While the 23-year-old McKennie is in the midst of a stellar campaign for club and country, things weren’t necessarily smooth all season. Back in September, after a 1-1 home draw to Canada, McKennie was suspended by coach Gregg Berhalter for violating USMNT’s COVID protocol.
McKennie missed the next match against Honduras before returning to the team in the following international window in a victory over Jamaica. This wasn’t the first infraction for McKennie as he was suspended by Juventus for hosting a party in his home in April of 2021.
But from these moments comes growth for young players and McKennie has shown his reliability both on and off the field for club and country. As his midfield mate Adams misses Wednesday’s pivotal game against an already eliminated Honduras side, McKennie will take on an even more important role for the United States. The Juve midfielder reflected on that suspension during Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
“I think it was a learning lesson, I think as I went back in [to the team] that it was important for me to put my head down and work. And Juventus definitely helped me out with that a lot, and as you know, I struggled for a bit, lost my confidence and like I said, it was a learning lesson. I let my team down and let my country down, my team down, my family down and myself,” McKennie said. “So when I got called back, it was to try and rebuild the relationships and the trust with everyone and to just perform, show that I’m there for the team and there to try and win.”
To win this match without Adams, McKennie will have to take on more defensive responsibilities as his likely midfield partners will be Kellyn Acosta and Yunus Musah. This is something that McKennie is able to do considering he has the 10th-most recoveries in Concacaf during this final round of World Cup qualifying.
The do-it-all midfielder will also have to lead the national team off the field as well and that means putting an arm around Christian Pulisic’s shoulder as he’s struggled during these past few games.
“The most important thing is that we’re there for each other and obviously, with the situation that he’s in, and maybe the amount of playing time that’s involved, he’s just catching his footing again and building his confidence.” McKennie said. “But I think in general he’s still an important piece because he’s one of those types of players that, you know, he might have one spark in a game.
So what kind of Pulisic should we expect on Wednesday?
“He could maybe not do anything all game and then have one spark. He’s one of the players [whose] very unpredictable to the opponents and I think he’s just someone that adds another type of danger on one-on-one ability in the final third. Everyone’s going to have their opinions, everyone’s going to say what they want to say. But you know, the team here and the staff we all have is back and we all know just want to put them in the best position to succeed.”
Taking a step back to have perspective on struggles shows that there’s more to the situations than meets the eye. With support from his teammates, Pulisic will get back to his best and looking at McKennie, in a short span of time, he’s grown into a team leader which is a track that looks like it will continue. Progress isn’t always linear but we’re seeing it before our eyes as McKennie grows.