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America’s latest Bundesliga teenager eyes the future

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As recently as Wednesday, Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie joined his American teammate Nick Taitague and fellow Yank teenager Christian Pulisic for an afternoon of FIFA at Pulisic’s place in Gelsenkirchen.

How long those sort of friendly meetings will endure is up for discussion, because one of the world’s best rivalries has two young American friends on either side.

McKennie is a whopping 21 days older than Borussia Dortmund’s Pulisic, and will turn 19 on August 28. He’s also following in the footsteps of Pulisic as a teenage member of the Revierderby.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“When we hang out it doesn’t come up, but we know in the back of our heads that when that game comes around we’ll have to hit pause on our friendship,” McKennie told ProSoccerTalk. “After that game we’ll see how it goes, but I’m sure it’ll be the same.”

The friendship of McKennie, Pulisic, Taitague, and Haji Wright — Wright has left Schalke for a loan stint at Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga — has otherwise been a boon to the American quartet, and it isn’t wild to consider the unit’s formative days in Germany as a harbinger of what’s to come for the United States men’s national team.

McKennie, 18, could be a massive part of American soccer in the future. Rated the 13th best U-20 prospect in the Bundesliga, the Texas-born midfielder has drawn glowing reviews from new manager Domenico Tedesco, who lauded the player’s “super pressing game” in a senior debut earlier this week, and veterans Benedikt Howedes and Matija Nastasic only had good things to say in conversations with PST this week.

“In the defensive midfield he already operates very mature,” said Howedes, the longtime Schalke man who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany. “He works hard all the time and showed in pre-season that he can help us. If he develops like he has done until now, the team will be pleased with him. Also, he is clever in his head and a really funny guy.”

Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, is very pleased with McKennie’s two-way game.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

“He’s very very good player in the middle because he can go up front and finish actions but also in defense he’s very good,” Nastasic said. “For me, he’s a box-to-box player who can run and is strong. He can be very very good.”

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Both players stressed patience with McKennie and a Schalke squad that has youthful talent in bunches. In addition to the American teenager, there’s Swiss sensation Breel Embolo, Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, and German trio Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, and Fabian Reese.

In Meyer and Goretzka, McKennie has teammates who boast more than 210 league appearances despite a combined age of 43. Both won silver medals at the 2016 Olympics and Goretkza won the Silver Boot and Bronze Ball as Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

The fact that these players surround McKennie, Schalke’s youngest First Teamer, and have done so much at their ages is not lost on the American midfielder.

“Being around guys who’ve accomplished so much at a young age, even with Christian being younger than me and achieving so much and setting the way over here, you’re surrounding yourself with people who are only going to make you better,” McKennie said.

“Knowing ‘This kid’s only one year older than me. This kid’s only two years older than me,’ and seeing the way they carry themselves and the amount of experience they’ve had, it rubs off on you.”

And it’s not just the young guys bringing the energy as Schalke prepares for its Bundesliga opener on Saturday against Red Bull Leipzig.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Brooks out 3 months for Wolfsburg ]

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. The older guys like Naldo and Coke still joke around with young guys. Me being the youngest I get a little bit more than everyone else.”

As for his American hopes, McKennie has spoken of his hopes to get into Bruce Arena’s USMNT fold. He’s hopeful for a call into a friendly camp in the next year, and harbors long shot hopes for a spot on a potential World Cup roster.

Playing an important position in one of the world’s top leagues at age 18 won’t hurt that, though minutes will certainly be difficult to come by this season given Schalke has a rare campaign outside of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

And it may not surprise then when asked to target his role as a potential international, he hopes to grow into a player who’d be described as a mix of two of the United States’ all-time best at that position (one who’s starred at Schalke).

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“I’d kinda say Jermaine Jones if you had to choose a national team player, for the stuff that he does and maybe Michael Bradley, one of those players who is calm on the ball and can play that long ball, the one that is there at the right moments.” McKennie said, though at his age he obviously hasn’t seen a wide variety of USMNT center mids.

“Jermaine in my eyes is one of those guys who gets stuck in no matter what. He goes with all he has, and does the dirty work. That’s kinda how I picture myself.”

All of that isn’t to put the cart before the horse. McKennie is very clear in answering any questions about his future with measured responses. He has a lot of work to do to continue his rise into Schalke’s set-up.

[ MORE: Costa — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

For now, he’ll keep doing what he’s doing, working as hard as possible to maintain a spot in Tedesco’s mix and growing alongside Taitague and Wright, and across the pitch from Pulisic, even as his BVB buddy makes it a bit harder to go out on the town.

“In his area and even in Gelsenkirchen because we’re rivals, he’s noticeable, but he’s not a player who tries to be noticed,” McKennie said. “There are players who try to be noticed, but he’s not. He’s not gonna say no to taking a photo, but even if he’s having a bad day he finds a way to put on a smile. He’s younger than me and I can still look up to him.”

That is until they hopefully hit the same grass for one of the game’s best matches.

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

Barcelona target Dembele remains suspended by Dortmund

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DORTMUND, Germany (AP) Borussia Dortmund says France forward Ousmane Dembele remains suspended from team training “until further notice” as he agitates for a move to Barcelona.

[ MORE: Ronaldo scores, sees red, shoves refNeymar scores on PSG debut ]

Dembele, who was fined by the club for missing training on Thursday, was initially suspended for Saturday’s German Cup game against FC Rielasingen-Arlen, but the decision to extend it was made between chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, sporting director Michael Zorc and coach Peter Bosz.

Zorc says, “Our focus is now concentrated on preparing the team for the Bundesliga opening game this coming weekend in Wolfsburg,” adding, “Dembele obviously has the possibility to train individually away from the group.”

[ MORE: Man United thrash West HamLukaku scores his first ]

Dembele has reportedly refused all contact with the club since Barcelona made a bid reported to be worth $124 million including add-ons.

Dortmund, Bayern start season with easy German Cup wins

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BERLIN (AP) No Dembele, no problem.

Borussia Dortmund began its German Cup defense with a comfortable 4-0 win over FC Rielasingen-Arlen on Saturday, when Bayern Munich also progressed easily.

Dortmund banned France forward Ousmane Dembele from playing and training with the side on Thursday, after he failed to show for training as Barcelona made a bid reported to be worth $124 million including add-ons.

Dembele, who has a contract to 2021 with Dortmund, has since refused any contact with the club and new coach Peter Bosz was forced to field questions on the 20-year-old’s future before the first-round game against Rielasingen.

“We don’t know what’s happening,” Bosz said, adding that “the club should say early tomorrow (Sunday) what we’ll do.”

Facing a sixth-tier side, Dortmund showed no signs of missing the forward.

Marc Bartra opened the scoring early before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added another from the penalty spot.

Aubameyang claimed his second in typical fashion after the break, accelerating away from two defenders before finishing with a chip over the goalkeeper. He took advantage of poor defending to complete his hat trick late on.


It’s not often that the referee is the center of attention before a Bayern Munich game.

But Bibiana Steinhaus, who will be the Bundesliga’s first female referee, got a taste of things to come when she took charge of Bayern’s 5-0 victory at third-division Chemnitzer FC.

Last season Steinhaus refereed eight second-division games.

Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring from a free kick in the first half, when Franck Ribery went close with an audacious effort that just whizzed past the far post.

Ribery set up compatriot Kingsley Coman after the break, and then scored one for himself after Lewandowski had claimed his second. Mats Hummels wrapped it up late.


Nils Petersen opened the scoring for Freiburg in a 2-1 win at his father’s team, fourth-tier Germania Halberstadt.

Also Saturday, 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt defeated fourth-tier TuS Erndtebrueck 3-0, Mainz won 3-1 at fourth-tier Lueneburger SK Hansa, Cologne beat fifth-tier Leher TS 5-0, and there were wins for second-division sides Heidenheim and Kaiserslautern.

Barcelona target Dembele misses Dortmund training

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Ousmane Dembele did not turn up for training with Borussia Dortmund and they don’t know why.

Let’s take a guess…

[ MORE: Coutinho not for sale ]

The French international striker, 20, is said to be the subject of a $110 million-plus bid from Barcelona as they look at players to replace Neymar following his $262 million move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Dortmund manager Peter Bosz confirmed Dembele wasn’t training with the team.

“Dembele didn’t show up for training today,” Bosz said. “We don’t know where he is. We couldn’t reach him today. I talked to Dembele yesterday. He told me he had been in Paris with his friends. He did not say anything about a transfer. There was no sign yesterday that Ousmane would not be here today. We hope nothing terrible has happened.”

Later on Thursday Dortmund released a statement saying they had rejected a bid for Dembele from Barca because they “received a bid that does not match his extraordinary footballing ability or value to the club.”

Reports circulated that Dembele is back in Paris waiting for the word to fly to Barcelona and seal his move to the Nou Camp with some suggesting he could be a Barca player in “a few hours” time. However Dortmund have since suspended Dembele until next week and have fined him for his behavior with no deal close to being agreed, as far as they’re concerned.

It is said that Dortmund want over $170 million for Dembele, knowing that Barca has that “Neymar cash” to splash around with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho also high on their list of targets this summer. With Barca set to offer closer to $120 million for the French forward, this deal seems more likely to go through than Coutinho to Barcelona.

Dortmund signed Dembele on a five-year contract from French club Rennes last summer for an initial fee of just $18 million (Rennes reportedly have a 25 percent sell-on clause) and he had a stellar campaign for the Bundesliga giants, scoring 10 goals and adding 21 assists in 49 games in all competitions.

Now it appears he is the perfect long-term replacement for Neymar, while Coutinho is apparently still earmarked to replace Andres Iniesta.

Maybe this move could mean Barca back down on Coutinho for now and go back in for the Brazilian playmaker next summer?