An American in Dortmund: Contrasting Pulisic and McKennie
As mentioned in the Talking Points for this weekend’s entertaining/stressful derby, the match was of particular interest for Americans who follow the Bundesliga. In the match they had an opportunity to see two friends and the future of the U.S. men’s national team face each other on opposites sides of the pitch. The results were quite opposite, but it was a glimpse of the potential impact U.S. youth internationals will have on the Bundesliga and Europe in the future.
For those unfamiliar with McKennie, he is the same age as Pulisic but his journey to Schalke is much different than our American star to the Black and Yellow. While the Texan did spend a few years while younger in Germany and played for FC Phönix Otterbach as a six year-old, the majority of his soccer development occurred in the U.S. When he was 17, he chose to come to Schalke over FC Dallas of MLS (his home club and the development academy for which he played) and receiving a “soccer” scholarship to the University of Virginia. For non-Americans, that decision is the obvious one but it is one only some Americans have taken, turning down a guaranteed good salary and playing time near home to try and possibly fail abroad. So far the decision has been a good one – McKennie has made 11 appearances in all competitions for Schalke and recently scored a goal in his first senior team cap with the U.S.
In this match, McKennie would be asked to play central midfield against a 3-5-2 style formation where he would need to contend with Mario Gotze, among others. He had featured for Schalke against Bayern earlier in the season but that match was at home. This would be away at one of the toughest arenas in the world and he would be deployed farther forward in the midfield. The result was not great. He would be substituted out in the 32nd minute sitting on a yellow and his side down 4-0. Not all goals were his fault, but his play was that of a young Bundesliga player. He picked up that yellow in the third minute and, considering Schalke were looking to out-muscle the Dortmund midfield, he was hamstrung in his ability to impose his style on the game. Again, this was endemic in the Schalke starting XI and the reason three substitutes were needed before the second-half kick-off, but in his first derby McKennie showed his youth.
Contrast that with Pulisic, who made his 50th league appearance and became the youngest non-German to reach that mark. Pulisic was deployed to the right as a winger, playing further back than he usually has been asked by Peter Bosz and wider in midfield than the U.S. set-up asks. In this role, he played well, tracking back on defence when needed but also disrupting the Schalke left side. Later in the match, when everything was coming undone under Schalke’s pressure, Pulisic eventually was moved centrally and became the lone attacking outlet for a 10-man Dortmund side. Despite having suffered a hamstring issue a week ago, he remained on the pitch as the speed release rather than another Dortmund attacking player. It is clear that Peter Bosz highly regards Pulisic enough to move him around to play different positions, and Pulisic has rewarded that faith with quality play.
The match ended level on goals but unequal in terms of how the two Americans played. For Dortmund fans, the contrast between the two shows how special a player they have in Pulisic; in case they have not yet realised, there are not many (if any) Americans like him.