Weston McKennie urges more U.S. players to move to Europe
Weston McKennie has urged U.S. talents to follow his example and come to Europe at a young age, telling ESPN FC: "If you have the opportunity to come to Europe, I would say for me ... 100 percent take it!"
McKennie, 19, joined Schalke's youth academy in August 2016, and just over a year later has turned himself into a full Bundesliga player as well as a United States international, scoring on his international debut versus Portugal last month.
Alongside Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, the Schalke midfielder is the leader of a new wave of American players who have benefitted from the U.S. youth system before heading to Europe, seeking competition at the highest level.
In February, U.S. attacker Josh Sargent, 17, will become the next in line when he joins Werder Bremen the day he turns 18, and McKennie believes that the youngster has made exactly the right choice.
"No offence to MLS or anything, but you can say that Bundesliga is a better league than MLS," McKennie told ESPN FC. "If he [Sargent] can come over, and make it, be successful and play his game, there is no doubt in my mind that he can go back to MLS -- if he wanted to. It's a little bit difficult when you start in MLS and come to Europe."
At Werder Bremen, Sargent will first train with the club's under-23, and play matches from the summer onwards, with Bremen squad manager Tim Steidten calling the Scott Gallagher Missouri player one of the "most promising players of his age group worldwide" in September.
After being linked with a move to Schalke almost two years ago, Jordan Morris opted to stay in the U.S. instead of trying his luck in the Bundesliga, but McKennie is confident he is on the right path to develop his game.
"If you have the opportunity to come to Europe, I would say for me how I did it? 100 percent take it! If it's the right choice, if everything fits, if everything makes sense, I would say come," he said. "You don't want to start in MLS and always have the question in the back of your head if you could have made it over there? I didn't want that.
"I figured that if I come over here, be successful here, play at the top level against Champions League quality, against World Cup winners then I believe that I can also go back to MLS at some point. If I have to come back, I am able to."
The Schalke midfielder and the future Bremen forward recently met when both received their first invited to the U.S. squad for the friendly against Portugal in November. And McKennie said Sargent picked his brain, eager to find out what is awaiting him in Bundesliga.
"He was asking me questions about it. 'How is it over there? Is the training harder? Do you have to run more? Is it this and is it that?' And I'm giving him answers: 'You do have to run more.' And he's like 'Yeah. I kinda figured,'" McKennie said, adding that he believes Sargent "will be in a good environment."
He said: "He's one of the type of kids that loves to learn, and better himself, and if someone tells him he has to hit with this part of the foot, he will not be like I know how I am doing it, he'll be like OK, I am gonna try."
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.