What the USMNT’s scoreless draw with Wales might have lacked in exciting, attacking play and goal-scoring chances for either side, it certainly made up for with a number of positive progression points for some of Gregg Berhalter’s most importantly players, perhaps most notably Weston McKennie.
The 22-year-old Juventus midfielder appeared far more comfortable and in control of the game’s proceedings than he has ever done while wearing the red, white and blue, and that was one of the main talking points for Berhalter while speaking in his post-game press conference. From “fun, magnetic and jovial” throughout the week, to serious and intense on game day, Berhalter revealed just how thrilled he was to see Weston McKennie “flip a switch” and transform into the midfield monster that he was against Wales.
“It’s always funny to talk about Weston, because off the field his personality is big. He’s a fun guy, magnetic personality, everyone loves him and he brings a real energy to the team.
“What he did in this camp, in particular, was he flipped a switch when game time came, and that was really interesting for me to see because he’s so relaxed and jovial around the training days and the camp. Then when the game came, you could tell it was a different Weston.
“I like to see that, I think that’s great. As a coach, you want to trust that your players are going to be able to perform on game day. When he has a switch like that, where he can go into another gear, it’s really nice to see.”
When the USMNT gets together to watch the film from Thursday’s game, McKennie is sure to garner high marks from Berhalter and the coaching staff. From a defensive and ball-circulation perspective, McKennie’s outing was simply fantastic in the no. 8 role.
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Without question, moving to Juventus has opened McKennie’s eyes to a new level of accountability and expectation, which is already paying dividends for a young team — even relative to Weston McKennie, it’s an exceptionally young group — as he quickly grows into a leader and someone that sets the tone day in and day out.
“I’m always going to be myself. I won’t switch a button during the week that will keep me from being how I am. I’ve always had the ability to, when it’s time to focus and be serious and time to go to work, I can do a complete 180 and switch it on.
“Not a lot of people can do that, and I think for me it’s important that I’m like that with a lot of new kids coming in, because they might a little anxious or nervous coming into camp being new, not feeling like they might integrate with the team well, but my energy, my vibe, my joking around kind of loosens them up a bit and [provides] a way they can connect with me.
“When it comes time I have to lay down the foot and tell them, ‘Hey, do this, we need to do that, make sure you’re here, make sure you’re there,’ that they know [they’re] already comfortable with [me], that [they] can trust [me], and I’ll listen to them.”
As for the lack of chances created, the USMNT remains a work in progress, though they will undoubtedly receive a massive boost the next time Christian Pulisic is available to play, whether that is Tuesday against Panama or in future camps. Perhaps better than anyone, McKennie could feel Pulisic’s absence and what his presence could have done to Thursday’s game.
“We have a lot of players who have a lot of quality, we have players who feel more comfortable with the ball at their feet instead of making the run in behind that exposes the space, opens up gaps. When everyone wants to come to the ball, it makes the team even more compact, it leaves less room. It’s all fine and dandy to combine and make it look pretty, but at the same time we have to score goals.
“Personally, I think Christian could have been a big help, because he’s really a one-on-one type of player that can beat a defender and get down the side and play a ball in or cross it. … I think the dynamic movement in behind the backline was something that we were missing.”