U.S. national team midfielder Weston McKennie is laying low at home with his Schalke teammate Nick Taitague right now in Germany, but that didn’t keep McKennie from joining U.S. teammates Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams to make donations to FeedingAmerica.org and encourage everyone else to do the same during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We kind of put our heads together and wanted to help out with the current situation even though we are over here in Europe,” McKennie said in the new Planet Fútbol Podcast. “We definitely pay attention to how this coronavirus is affecting America, so we teamed up with Feeding America, and we've decided to donate together. Hunger has been a struggle in America for a long time. And with the coronavirus and the effects that it has on people losing their jobs and people not being able to go out in public, I think donations can definitely help get people the food that they need.”
It’s a strange time for everyone these days, including professional soccer players. McKennie is training at home these days. Schalke had a stationary bicycle delivered there, and he has been getting instructions from the club on the workouts he’s supposed to be doing to stay fit.
“Today I did four times four minutes of intensive running with a 10-minute warmup,” he said. “They try and calculate to where we run about 35, 40, 45 minutes a day. … I have a power rack in my garage, so I can do bench press, squats, pull-ups, dips. I have kettlebells in my living room. I have my yoga mats and my dumbbells and my treadmill and my bike and stuff in my living room. So I guess you could say it's a bit crowded right now, turning my living room practically into my home gym.”
For now, McKennie still has his cook coming over to prepare meals for him. But life with Taitague is pretty simple. They work out. They play video games. They watch movies. And that’s about it.
“We're trying to stay as isolated as possible,” said McKennie. “And that also includes trying to avoid shopping centers and going to the grocery stores. It’s difficult, because you second-guess yourself. You're like, 'Oh, I'm going to go to the store real quick. Or I need to put gas in my car.' And things that you never did before, like put gloves on to pump your gas and you know, go to the store and put your shirt over your nose and walk around and try to minimize touching everything.”
McKennie’s last training session with Schalke was March 13, the day before they were supposed to play archrival Dortmund in one of the world’s great derbies. They were going to play in an empty Dortmund stadium—usually home to the world’s biggest club crowds—but then the game was canceled entirely.
“I don't want it to come off wrong, but I think many of us were happy that it [got canceled],” McKennie said. “Because as a player and with such a big game like the derby, to play it without fans would be almost indescribable. It's a game that is one of the biggest in Germany and one of the biggest derbies around the world.”
McKennie said he wasn’t aware of anyone at his club that had contracted coronavirus. But he was glad the games have been stopped, not only for fans but for players, too.
“You can empty the stadium, but there's still going to be big gatherings around the city to watch the game,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you close the stadium or not. People are still going to be in contact with each other. And as far as the players, the risk is really low. But then whenever you think deeply, you say, 'O.K., I don't know where that player has been, who he's around, like if he has it.' And the tricky thing about it is some players don't even show symptoms of it.”
Another American player, 17-year-old Gio Reyna, lives not too far away from McKennie in Dortmund. McKennie said they had been in touch recently when they went out to dinner together with their agency heads from Wasserman before everyone went on lockdown.
“He knows that if he ever needs anyone to hang out with or just wants to come over and chill, he's more than welcome,” McKennie said of Reyna. “Obviously right now in the circumstances, it's a little bit hard to do such a thing, but I understand where he's at right now, because at Dortmund he lives on the facility, and all the kids practically have gone home there. So he's practically all alone by himself, which is kind of a bummer.”
Also a bummer: McKennie had just rediscovered his goal-scoring form right before soccer shutdown. He had a terrific goal against Hoffenheim earlier this month, his first strike in the Bundesliga since 2018.
“It was actually really funny,” he said. “My physio, me and him were talking that same day actually, while I was getting a massage. And he said, ‘I think you're going to score today.’ And I'm thinking to myself, 'I haven't scored since like, 2018.' But then I also for some reason had a weird feeling about it too. I was like, 'O.K., I think I'm going to score today. Let's do it.' And we told each other before the game, ‘We'll do this celebration if you score.’ And sure enough, I scored and we ended up doing the celebration. So we might have to have that talk some more before the game.”
From McKennie’s perspective, he has enjoyed a good relationship in his first season with Schalke coach David Wagner, a German-American who played for the USMNT in the 1990s. McKennie says he has a good line of communication with Wagner, even though he remains a little surprised that they speak to each other in German, not in English.
“One of the things I really like about him: He's straight and to the point about it,” McKennie said. “He doesn't try to sugarcoat or find backdoors to give you a reason of why you're not doing this or why you're not playing or something. He's like, ‘Hey, you're not performing so you're not playing,’ or ‘Hey, you're doing very well. Like keep it up.’”
McKennie said he had been looking forward to what would have been the FIFA international window this week with his USMNT teammates, some of whom, like Pulisic, he has known since their early teens.
“Honestly it was a pretty crappy situation because I was thinking to myself like, the first camp we have in Europe in such a long time where I don't have to travel like 10 hours, it's canceled," he said. "We had two good games, the Netherlands and Wales, and were really looking forward to it, but with the current situation you kind of have to take it on the chin and just look forward to the next thing.”
Nobody knows how long the coronavirus will continue to shut the world down, but there are six big World Cup qualifiers currently scheduled from September to November for the USMNT. McKennie still has them circled on his calendar for now.
“I think many Americans and many people are looking forward to seeing how we do in qualifying,” he said, “and to see what this new group is about. God willing, this virus is over and we are able to play soccer again. I think that’s something that all of us are really, really looking forward to.”