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5 More Questions With Weston McKennie – Growing Up, Dealing With The Hype

"I think growing up in a military family definitely helped me become the player I am today, and the person I am today.”
Six Star Pro Staff
Six Star Pro Staff
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Weston McKennie - Growing up, dealing with hype

Weston McKennie is one of the most talented American soccer players in the game and a member of Team Six Star.

Born in Little Elm, Texas, the 23-year-old midfielder currently plays for the U.S. Men’s National Team, as well as for one of the top soccer clubs in Europe. McKennie is known for his athleticism, defensive skills, versatility, and intensity. A gifted and passionate leader, as well, he wore the captain’s armband for his national team at only 20-years-old.

As a teenager, McKennie made his professional debut playing for a German soccer club in 2017. Later that same year, he scored a goal in his senior international debut while playing for his country. Then in 2019, McKennie scored the fastest hat-trick in U.S. Men’s National Team history. And in 2020, he was named Male Player of the Year by U.S. Soccer. He is also an Italian Cup Winner, Italian Super Cup Winner, and a CONCACAF Nations League Winner. When he trains, he uses only “The Athlete’s Choice” for protein shakes and pre-workouts. 

McKennie recently took time out of his busy training schedule to chat with SixStarPro.Com about the National Team’s expectations, growing up in a military family and how he got involved in the sport of soccer.

Q: You’ve heard a lot of the hype around this generation of American soccer talent. It’s obviously a lot of pressure. How have you learned to deal with that? How do you stay even-keeled and adjust your own expectations? And yet, at the same time, how exciting is it to be a part of that?  

A: “The expectations from everyone else are nowhere near as high as the expectation that I have for myself. I think it’s exciting. I love pressure and I love pressure moments. I feel like I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. 

Just as I said in my last 5 Questions (LINK), people have doubted me my entire life. That puts a lot of pressure on you as a player. It’s one thing when you’re 15 or 16, like many younger developmental players are, and you’re supposed to be having fun with the sport, or that it shouldn’t be a job yet. That’s where having a good support group matters because you can’t do it alone.

As far as being prepared and being ready for this next generation that’s coming through, I think we’re all just excited and we’re all hungry. We’re all ready to grind together to compete at the highest stage.”

Q: You and your teammates here in the States are all fairly similar in age and you’ve all had some similar life experiences. Has that contributed to the bond and the chemistry that you and your teammates here in the States have? 

A: “We’ve all kind of had a similar pathway. Many of the players that are on the national team right now, surprisingly, were written off very early at a young age, or maybe weren’t considered top-tier. And I think those types of players, including myself, when you start behind the 8-ball, you really, really want to make it. You’re really hungry to make it. You have a desire and a will to make it and nothing at that point can stop you. 

In terms of my personal story, I did what I had to do and I am where I am today because of it – because of people who doubted me, who didn’t believe in me, and who wrote me off really early. I think that’s a bond that many of us players have. And that’s why I think we’re such a hungry group. We’re a group that everyone looks at and is like, “Oh, you can see these guys have a will to fight.”

It’s common sense in a way because we all know our stories. We all know how we fit in together. We all know what we went through to get to that point. So, we know what it takes to succeed.” 

Q: Is that American spirit that you talked about – having a chip on your shoulder and being an underdog – breathing new life into the national team? It comes across in the way that you play, but is that real? Do you think it’s real?

A: “I believe the spirit that we have while we’re playing is 100 percent real. We’re looked at by the world right now as, “Oh, it’s the USA. They’re known for American football, basketball, and baseball.” No one ever thinks that they can be known for soccer at all. 

Right now, all of us on the national team really want to change the narrative in that way. We really want people to see U.S. soccer and respect it, and to respect us. And I think that right there is as much of a chip on all of our shoulders as us being little kids and people saying that we weren’t good enough.”

Q: A lot of your teammates have this military background, and this background growing up outside of the States. Spending so much time outside of the States, was soccer your first love or did you fall in love with other sports? And how much has there been a family influence in that? 

A: “To be completely honest, my first love was American football. My brother played it and I played flag football growing up. And like you said, the family influence was monumental. I wouldn’t be where I am today…

Because my dad was in the military, we ended up being stationed in Germany. And because of that move, I fell in love with soccer because I couldn’t play football in Germany at the time because they didn’t have it for kids my age. My parents didn’t want me to get in trouble as a kid because I didn’t have anything else to do. So, that’s when they were able to get me into the sport. My brother also had something to do with it too. He took me across the street to a gym where there was open soccer every Monday night and that’s when I met my first coach. 

He spoke to my mom and said, “hey, I just took over the team here in the village and he should come tryout.” So, I showed up to training, sure enough, in my most Americanized outfit – khaki shorts, a polo, and some football cleats. (Laughing) That’s where my journey began.”

Q: There are many famous athletes who come from military backgrounds (Shaq, Tiger). Did the structure and discipline of growing up in that environment, as well as needing to be flexible because you could have to move at a moment’s notice, help you become the athlete that you are today? 

A: “I think growing up in a military family has a lot of influence over where I am today just in the aspects that you mentioned. You know, discipline, respect, and being able to adjust to situations in a moment’s notice. 

It’s very helpful because in the professional world you may have to change clubs, change a team. Then you’re in a whole different environment and you need to adapt to it. You need to learn the language. You need to learn the team. You need to be disciplined in the way that you live and the way that you prepare for games. You have to respect the game. You have to respect the people around you who are trying to help you. And you have to respect the people that you’re playing against because they’re opponents and your opponents make you better in some ways. 

I think growing up in a military family definitely helped me become the player I am today, and the person I am today.”

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