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Weston McKennie looking to build on impressive U.S. national team debut

The 19-year-old midfielder scored in his first game for the national team, a 1-1 tie at Portugal in November.

Weston McKennie (center) will play for the U.S. mens national team during next week’s friendly vs. Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium.
Weston McKennie (center) will play for the U.S. mens national team during next week’s friendly vs. Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Weston McKennie won't forget his first cap with the U.S. national soccer team, where he accomplished two major goals in one game.

The midfielder was making his national team debut in the United States' final game of 2017, a Nov. 14 match at Portugal. In the 21st minute, he took a pass from current Union forward C.J. Sapong, turned a defender around and, from about 12 yards, drilled a low shot inside the near post.

The U.S. would earn a 1-1 tie and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound product of Little Elm, Texas, outside of Dallas, proved that the moment wasn't too big.

McKennie, who turns 20 in August, is considered one of the bright young players on a national team roster dotted with youth that will play Bolivia in an international friendly at Talen Energy Stadium on Monday.

The average age of the roster for is 22 years, 286 days, according to U.S. Soccer.

The U.S. team is working out this week at the University of Pennsylvania. Before training on Tuesday, McKennie recalled his first cap and goal, hoping the experience paves the way for many more in the future.

"It was a dream come true," he said. "There are a lot of people who dream to play for the national team and a lot of people who dream of scoring for the national team. To be able to experience both of that in one, my first cap and to be able to score, it was a feeling you can't really describe it so much, it is one of those moments you live it and learn from it and build off of that."

He said the experience taught him to be even-keeled, easier said than done after such a strong debut.

"From that experience, I learned to stay grounded," he said. "Just because you get your first cap and score a goal doesn't mean you are a regular."

Being a regular obviously is his goal and McKennie, while not boastful, surely doesn't lack confidence. Much of it comes from his strong play for German club Schalke 04, of the famed Bundesliga, where McKennie was a regular in the central midfield.

Not surprisingly, McKennie said playing in the Bundesliga has greatly elevated his game.

"It helps a lot and you have to be able to think quicker," McKennie said. "They say when you surround yourself with players of that level, you start doing things you didn't realize you could do."

In Germany, he has bonded with Christian Pulisic, the young, new face of the U.S. national team who plays for Bundesliga rival Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic has not yet arrived in camp, but the Hershey product will be available for Monday's game.

McKennie said he has been friends with Pulisic since they were 13.

"We have a lot of memories and go way back," McKennie said. "Being in Germany together 30 minutes down the road, I see him every week. … We have a lot of chemistry and I think the chemistry will be there when he comes in."

McKennie, who has an outgoing personality and describes himself as a "social butterfly," is looking to be among the leaders in this young wave of players with the national team.

"At some point, I do feel like a leader in some sort of way toward the guys who are younger than I am, but then I also feel like I am being led," he said. "I will listen to what guys say and respect what they say."