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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.”

And here’s Nabil Bentaleb, just 22:

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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.

Rapids name Robin Fraser as head coach

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Rapids have named former Major League Soccer player and longtime assistant Robin Fraser as their head coach.

Fraser steps in for Conor Casey, who’s been the interim coach since the team fired Anthony Hudson in May. Colorado is 7-14-6 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Fraser’s first match in charge will be Saturday at the New York Red Bulls.

The 52-year-old Fraser has served as an assistant coach at Toronto FC since 2015.

Fraser was the fourth overall pick in the 1996 MLS player draft by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Over his career, Fraser suited up for the Galaxy, the Rapids and the Columbus Crew. He said in a statement Sunday he considers Colorado home because he’s so familiar with the soccer community.

Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said Fraser has a “deep knowledge of what it takes to be successful in MLS.”

Pochettino upset with attacking stars, speaks on Eriksen status

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Mauricio Pochettino might’ve understood Tottenham Hotspur dropping points last week at Man City, but he didn’t plan on not taking anything from Newcastle United on Sunday at home.

“You need the capacity to step up in this type of situation but we didn’t show that quality today,” Pochettino said. “When the ball arrives in the last third you need something from the talent and quality we have there and today we didn’t have that.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle | Bruce reacts ]

So that’s pretty straight forward, but Pochettino was less happy to answer the question of why he didn’t start Christian Eriksen. Some (read: this writer) have questioned the philosophy of putting a man you may sell for $50 million on the bench. Either put him in the Starting XI and risk him, or leave him off the 18.

“When you lose, the players who don’t play are the best. With Christian we win and we lose a lot of games. I accept that situation is like this. If we won 3-0 today no one talks about different names.

“I cannot find excuses about the transfer window being open to justify that performance or the result. We cannot find the way to be solid and to have consistency for different reasons. I am going to be happy in 10 days after we play Arsenal when the transfer window closes in Europe and to have the player involved until the transfer window again in January.”

We’re not gonna read too much into it, but it does sound a bit like Pochettino is daring teams to bid for Eriksen. Would it make sense for him to hold onto Eriksen until January before cashing in?

Newcastle’s Bruce heard criticism, happy to beat Spurs

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Steve Bruce heard a lot of the criticism from fans upon his hiring at Newcastle United, and it rang out louder after the Magpies started 0-2 including a loss at newly-promoted Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle ]

He may well hear plenty more down the road, but the childhood Newcastle supporter was feeling relieved and maybe redeemed after a fortunate and wonderful 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“We came to this fantastic stadium, this fantastic club and we performed. I mean, to say I ‘cannot even do a warm up’ is mad. I have managed 900-odd games and over the years you would think there would be some sort of respect but I go back to the fact that whoever took over from Rafa Benitez was going to get the abuse.”

Newcastle faces struggling Watford at St. James’ Park next week, and another result will ease a lot of nerves (though certainly not all of them.

Wolves snatch late point versus Burnley

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Raul Jimenez’s penalty seven minutes into stoppage time gave Wolves a point with a 1-1 draw against Burnley on Sunday at the Molineux Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Wolves now have three draws in three matches, while Burnley has four points.


Three things

  1. We’re paying rent in Ashley Barnes‘ world — Known most for his combustible, some-would-say dirty nature, the Burnley striker now has four goals this early season and more than one, including Sunday’s opener, have been bangers.
  2. Nuno’s men could use a break — Wolves fought well, but you can tell the Europa League schedule has heavily taxed their spirit. How tired are they? Here are the thoughts of an exhausted Raul Jimenez, and you can read the “Thank you, God” inside them –> “I think [the penalty] is the right decision. When I get in possession he tried to kick the ball, then he kicked me. It came at a good moment for us.”
  3. Don’t ever bet against Sean Dyche — We’ve written it 100 times. The big man can get a result from anywhere, at any time.

Burnley was easily the better unit over the first 45 minutes, and was rewarded with a goal even after VAR ruled one out.

Barnes chested a neatly-headed flick into shooting position and unleashed a missile that zipped past Rui Patricio for a 1-0 lead.

Both sides began the second half brightly, with Morgan Gibbs-White lashed a shot offf the outside of the netting and Barnes unable to get purchase on a ball over the top of the Wolves back line.

But Erik Pieters cut down Jimenez in the box late to set the Mexican international up for a win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]