Christian Pulisic has proven his worth at Chelsea, and now a second young U.S. national team star may be on the verge of a move to one of soccer’s most successful and ambitious clubs.
Reports out of Europe on Wednesday have linked midfielder Weston McKennie—who was being shopped by Schalke 04 as the German club looks to shore up weakened finances—with a transfer to Italian giant Juventus. If the move happens it would put McKennie, who turns 22 on Friday, on the books of the nine-time defending Serie A champions and on the field alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
Despite its domestic dominance, Juventus is undergoing a makeover in its pursuit of a long-awaited third European title. It recently hired former midfield legend Andrea Pirlo, who ended his career in MLS at New York City FC, as head coach and has aimed to shed a few older players with higher salaries (French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, 33, already has signed with MLS’s Inter Miami). McKennie would bring range, versatility and vigor to the Juve midfield at a relatively affordable price.
Sky Sports and Kicker each reported Wednesday that the proposed deal will send McKennie to Juventus for the 2020-21 season on a $3.5 million loan. After that, the Italian club will have the option to purchase McKennie’s rights from Schalke for $21.3 million, which is considered close to the midfielder’s market value.
The year-long loan would offer Juventus the chance to ensure McKennie fits in and can contribute, and would provide Schalke with some much-needed funding in the meantime. The German club, once regular Champions League participants, has been struggling with debt and was left without critical financing following the June resignation of long-time chairman Clemens Toennies. Schalke reportedly was more than $200 million in the red before the coronavirus pandemic, and club officials said they likely would be unable to focus on qualifying for European competition for the foreseeable future.
Schalke’s on-field fortunes also suffered once the Bundesliga returned to action in May. It failed to win a game after the restart, going 0-7-2 and plunging to 12th place.
That changed the equation for McKennie, an ambitious player who left the FC Dallas academy in the summer of 2016 to try his luck in one of the best leagues in the world. He’s since established himself as a key cog at Schalke and is under contract there until the summer of 2024. In 2019-20, he made 32 appearances for the club and scored three goals. And he was a Champions League regular the prior season.
With Schalke’s momentum blunted, however, he began to look for other options. England was in the mix, as Southampton and Newcastle United reportedly made offers. A move within Germany was possible as well, although Schalke and McKennie had reason to reject Hertha Berlin’s advances.
Juventus represents a steep step up from all of them. It’s a massive challenge, but one which offers significant potential reward both to the player and to his national team.
“He's very focused on challenging himself and raising his level and playing at the highest level possible,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said recently of McKennie.
Italy hasn’t been a popular destination for American players. National Soccer Hall of Fame defender Alexi Lalas made waves following the 1994 World Cup by signing with Padova, which was in Serie A at the time. He left Italy in early 1996 to join the New England Revolution. Michael Bradley spent three seasons in Serie A, first with Chievo Verona then with AS Roma, and played in the Coppa Italia final in 2013. Among the others who have tested themselves in Italy are defender Oguchi Onyewu, whose year-and-a-half at AC Milan was wrecked by injuries, and New Jersey-born, Italian national team forward Giuseppe Rossi, who played for Parma, Fiorentina and Genoa. At the moment, the only U.S.-eligible player in Italy is Wisconsin native Andrija Novakovich, who’s a forward at second-division Frosinone.