While last Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against reigning European champion Portugal marked the U.S. Men’s National Team’s final match of 2017, for a trio of young players earning their first caps it represented the first steps of what they hope will be a long journey with the MNT.
“We want to turn the page and look into the future,” said Weston McKennie, one of the three freshly-capped players. “This game was closing out 2017, but we have a bunch of new guys that came in, fresh faces and guys that want to prove that they could play at this level and represent the country well. I think tonight was a good starting point for that. “
With 12 of the 21-player roster coming in at 24 years old and under, the friendly signified an accelerated future for the MNT. Three of those young players - McKennie, Tyler Adams and Cameron Carter-Vickers - made their first appearances with the team and shone in the 1-1 draw, highlighted by McKennie’s 21st minute goal.
READ MORE: First Cap, First Goal for Weston McKennie
“The quality is here,” Adams said. “A lot of young guys put in a lot of solid performances and there’s even more guys that aren’t in this group right now. Going forward, we have to be patient, but the future is bright.”
While it was these players’ first time wearing the crest at the senior level, they immediately showed promise. In addition to earning consistent minutes for their clubs, they’ve grown up playing with the roster’s other young players as part of the Youth National Team programs and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. McKennie, now plying his trade at Bundesliga-side Schalke 04, paired in the midfield with Kellyn Acosta, who he’s known and played with since he was 11-years-old at the FC Dallas Academy.
“I feel like I fit right in,” McKennie said. “I didn’t feel like I wasn’t prepared for it. I’ve played in the Bundesliga and it’s a high level there also. I could hold my own against Portugal and take chances.”
Adams and McKennie played together on Youth National Teams, building even more chemistry in the midfield. When Carter-Vickers entered the match after halftime, it represented a reunion on the back-line with Matt Miazga, his partner in anchoring the USA’s defense at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. The pair’s return for the red, white and blue smoothed the path for Carter-Vickers’ dream night.
“It’s quite hard when you come on in the middle of the game, but to come on playing with someone that you’ve played with so many times, it definitely helps,” Carter-Vickers said. “It’s a dream come true, it’s what every young player wants to do growing up. You always want to represent your country at full level.”
An away draw against the defending European champions was a solid return for a group seeking to test themselves against high-quality competition. The on-field product showed a glimpse of what’s to come from the MNT moving forward.
“This group is full of energy,” McKennie said. “We went out there from the very first whistle and fought to the end. There’s a lot of opportunities for guys. We want to show the U.S. what the future holds.”
While it’s a promising start, it’s just the beginning. The trio of newly-capped players, as well as the rest of a young, exciting player pool, now heads into 2018 continuing to forge ahead in defining the future of the MNT.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Carter-Vickers said. “All the players that are in there, they’re all hungry. We all want to achieve. A lot of us are young. We all want to push on, try and do things and try and win.”Read more
After rising through the ranks of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and Youth National Teams, Weston McKennie is becoming a regular contributor for German club Schalke 04. Here’s five things you should know about the latest American making his mark in the Bundesliga.
Born on Aug. 28, 1998 in Little Elm, Texas, McKennie fell in love with soccer thanks to the three years he spent growing up in Kaiserslautern, Germany where his father served on a military base. As you might have guessed, McKennie’s time in the football-mad nation helped steer him towards soccer, with the American joining his first club, FC Phönix Otterbach, at the age of six in 2004.
“When I moved to Germany, it was the only sport that they really played there,” McKennie said. “I started playing like that, I fell in love with the sport: the culture, the fans, how big it is over there, how they support it in Europe.”
Deep in the Heart of Texas
After three years in Germany, the McKennie family moved back stateside. Though in love with soccer, like many kids from Texas McKennie was drawn towards American football. For a time, he played both sports simultaneously, even squeezing games from both disciplines in on the same day. His soccer coaches would sometimes allow him to leave after he scored twice, so he would quickly knock two in, then rush to the car, put his pads on and take to the gridiron as a halfback.
Eventually, he focused on soccer and joined the vaunted FC Dallas Academy in 2009. Dallas is one of M.L.S.’ top teams for Homegrown Player production, leading the league this season with nine Academy products on its roster. Kellyn Acosta and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez also joined him in camp ahead of the Portugal friendly after coming up through the Dallas academy ranks.
“I have a lot to thank FC Dallas for. Their system is one of the best in the country,” McKennie said. “They really know what they’re doing. When I made the jump over to Europe, I wasn’t surprised by many of the things and many of the changes because FC Dallas was a step ahead.”
During his time with Dallas, McKennie helped the club to two Development Academy championships, at the U-15/16 level in 2015 and the U-17/18 level in 2016. His efforts in 2016, his final season with the club, earned him Central Conference Player of the Year honors.
Red, White and Blue Call-Ups
As one of the top players in the Development Academy, McKennie quickly caught the attention of scouts and National Team coaches. He’s risen through the ranks of the Youth National Team program, starting at U-14 and rising through the U-17 and U-19 levels before earning his first senior team call-up this month.
Most recently at the U-19 level, McKennie lead the red, white and blue to the 2016 Slovakia Cup title, dispatching Russia 2-1 for the tournament championship. He missed this summer’s U-20 World Cup when Schalke refused to release him from the team’s deep run in the U-19 Bundesliga championships.
It was on the YNT where McKennie met Christian Pulisic, his “first friend” within the National Team. McKennie has followed Pulsiic’s path to making an impact in Germany, and the two remain close off the field. They’ll meet for the Revierderby when Schalke comes to visit Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion and, as McKennie said, put their friendship “on hold for 90 minutes.”
“Even though he’s a bit younger than me, I still look up to him,” McKennie said. “He was the stepping stone to coming back over to Germany. He paved the way, he made kids believe that it was possible.”
Move to Schalke
On the heels of his success with the YNTs and FC Dallas, McKennie was long the subject of European interest. Though offered an impressive Homegrown contract by FC Dallas, upon turning 18 the valued midfielder elected for a return to Germany when he signed with Bundesliga club Schalke.
“I had always wanted to go back to Germany and play where I learned the sport. Seeing the success of Christian over there, it was like, ‘I want that, I need that,’” McKennie said. “I was hungry for it, to see what places my abilities would take me. I didn’t want to not know what I was capable of.”
Schalke has a history of developing top-level players like Manel Neuer, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil – all 2014 World Cup winners with Germany – as well as U.S. international Jermaine Jones. It has also been home to young American prospects Haji Wright and Nic Taitague.
In his first season, McKennie joined Schalke’s U-19 side in the U-19 Bundesliga and led the team all the way to the Championship Semifinal, where it fell to Bayern Munich on penalties. McKennie made his mark on the U-19 squad, captaining the team five times, scoring four goals and notching three assists during the course of the team’s 21-match campaign.
Club and Country of Late
McKennie was promoted to the first team for the 2017-18 season. After four appearances, he made his first Bundesliga start against European powerhouse Bayern Munich on Sept. 19. Since then, McKennie has been working towards a regular spot in the Miners’ starting eleven, most recently helping the squad to a 1-0 defeat of Freiburg on Nov. 4.
Currently fourth in the Bundesliga standings, Schalke is just six points off first-place Bayern Munich and tied with Pulisic’s Dortmund. A top-four finish would guarantee Schalke a spot in next season’s Champions League. It would be the club’s first appearance in Europe’s top-flight competition since 2015.
He’s made quite an impression in his brief time at the club: after 10 appearances this season, Schalke announced a five-year contract extension for McKennie, tying him to the club through 2022. It’s the longest deal for any current Schalke player.
His play in the Bundesliga earned him his first call-up for the MNT's year-end friendly at Portugal. Marking the beginning of a new era for the MNT, the 19-year-old joined Tyler Adams and Cameron Carter-Vickers in making his senior debut and became the third youngest U.S. player to tally in his first cap when he put home a clinical finish to open the scoring in the 21st minute. McKennie played 84 minutes and earned Man of the Match honors as the MNT played to a 1-1 draw with the reigning European champions in Leiria.Read more
After a big season with the New York Red Bulls and an important role at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Tyler Adams made the jump to the U.S. Men's National Team and earned his debut in the side's year-end friendly at Portugal. Fresh off 90 minutes in Leiria, learn more about the journey of one of the MNT's rising young stars.
A HOMEGROWN FOR HOMETOWN CLUB AND U.S. SOCCER
Growing up in Wappingers Falls, New York, Tyler Adams would beg his mom, Melissa, to take him to Red Bulls games and any chance he could get to see the U.S. Men’s National Team. Adams’ first connection with Red Bulls came when he was introduced to the organization through the Red Bulls RDS (Regional Development School) program at the age of 10. Two years later, Adams joined the Red Bulls U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-13/14 team and quickly progressed to the U-15/16 Academy team.
In September of 2014, Adams joined the U.S. Soccer Residency program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. as the U.S. U-17s continued to prepare for the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, and ultimately, the FIFA U-17 World Cup. By signing his Red Bulls senior team contract in November of 2015 and later playing in his first official M.L.S. game with the Red Bulls’ first team, Adams became the first player in Red Bulls history to graduate the Red Bulls Regional Development School (RDS) program and progress all the way through the to a professional contract and debut.
In March of 2015, Adams became the first professional signing in the history of USL club New York Red Bulls II. Adams made his first professional debut for Red Bulls II on April 4, 2015. The 4-1 victory against Toronto FC II also happened to be the first victory in club history. At the end of the 2016 USL season, Adams helped Red Bulls II to a 5-1 victory vs. Swope Park Rangers to take home the 2016 USL Cup. The USL championship was also the first in Red Bulls II history.
SCORING AGAINST CHELSEA IN HIS RED BULLS DEBUT
On July 23, 2015, Adams made his debut with the New York Red Bulls first team in an international friendly against the previous year’s English Premier League champions, Chelsea. In the 69th minute with the score tied 1-1, Adams headed a beautiful cross into the back of the net as the Red Bulls went on to win 4-2. The experience was a memorable one for Adams, to say the least.
“Stepping on the field with the likes of (Eden) Hazard, Diego Costa, all these big-time players, that’s a moment that you’ll never forget. Scoring my first professional goal in my debut in front of my family in Red Bull arena was the ultimate prize for me and I was so happy that I was able to do that. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
REPRESENTING THE USA AT THE FIFA U-17 AND U-20 WORLD CUP
In 2015, alongside current Men’s National Team player Christian Pulisic and recent U-20 World Cup teammates Luca de la Torre and Auston Trusty, Adams played in all three of the USA’s matches at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile. He came in as a sub in the USA’s first game against Nigeria and started the last two games against Croatia and host Chile.
“We went to Chile in a tough group and didn’t come out with the results that we wanted,” Adams said. “But the experiences that I’ve gained and brought back are going to help me progress through to the next stage.”
Those experience saw Adams become a staple for the USA’s 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup squad. He was a consistent presence in South Korea this summer, starting all five of the USA’s matches in the team’s run to the quarterfinals and playing every minute of the group stage.
MNT AND MLS MENTORS
When asked about who some of his immediate soccer mentors are, Adams is quick to point out current and former Red Bulls players Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty. Both players have also provided Adams with the unique insight of having experience representing club and country.
“They (Dax McCarty and Sasha Kljestan) have both encouraged me so much to keep working hard,” Adams said. “They are both National Team players now and they are both M.L.S. veterans that have made their case and proven who they are. They are well respected around the league and they are definitely people that I look up to and mimic my game off of. At the same time, they are class off the field as well. They are such good people to have in the locker room around you, and that’s something that I recognize.”
— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) June 1, 2017
After helping Red Bulls II to the USL title in his first full professional campaign, Adams made his regular season MLS debut on April 16 against San Jose. This year Adams graduated to the first team full-time, where he became a key cog in a successful season for Jesse Marsch’s squad.
Adams was pivotal in the Red Bulls’ run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. In the team’s thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, he teed up Bradley Wright-Phillips for the equalizing goal in the 77th-minute.
- READ: Red Bulls Storm Back for 3-2 Extra-Time Win to Reach 2017 U.S. Open Cup Final
- WATCH: Story of the Game: U.S. Open Cup Semifinal – FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls
The young midfielder also helped the Red Bulls to sixth place in the East, clinching the conference’s final playoff spot and setting-up a Knockout Round showdown against mentor Dax McCarty’s Chicago Fire. Playing in Chicago, Adams found his other mentor, Sasha Kljestan, in front of the net with a well-played cross to put New York up 2-0 in the 11th minute, leaving the Fire with an insurmountable deficit.
After a big year for club and country, Adams received his first MNT summons for a friendly at Portugal in November 2017. Marking a new era for the side, the 18-year-old joined Weston McKennie and Cameron Carter-Vickers in making his senior debut, going the full 90 minutes on the right side of midfield as the U.S. draw 1-1 with the reigning European champions on Nov. 14. Adams twice nearly joined fellow debutant McKennie in scoring in his international debut, seeing a one-time effot saved in the 20th minute, before his point-blank header at the back post was also kept out in the 52nd.
“I had goosebumps, but more than anything excitement," Adams said of his strong debut. "I think all the guys this week have made it very easy for me to get settled in and acclimated to the group, so I went out there with full confidence and I was happy with the performance.”