Leeds sign Weston McKennie!

Weston McKennie

Weston McKennie
Photography: Getty Images

It is the day of the transition period, and with the news that it is The USMNT will be at the Copa America (unless there’s some kind of qualifying disaster, which has never happened before, right?), what team members do with their club teams becomes increasingly urgent. No more waiting three years. The next major tournament is now only a year and a half away, so the USMNT players need to settle down and play well, in a much narrower window than we thought at first. So here comes Weston McKennie, who moved from Juventus to Leeds, perhaps for that reason.

On the surface, a player going from the biggest club in Italy to a relegation fighter in the Premier League sounds like a step or two down. But that’s probably more of an indication of where Serie A is on the world stage, which Juve will look like they did in their post-Plusvalenze stage, and where McKennie might be. Juventus obviously have to bring in some money without Champions League, and will have to get some salary off the books.

As for McKennie, as exciting as it was when he arrived at Juventus, it was a somewhat shaky relationship. Not that he was bad. He made 70 appearances and 46 starts over two and a half seasons, scoring nine goals. But he arrived during Juve’s slump, played under two different managers and Max Allegri has thrown almost every formation and system against the wall this season to try and find an answer. And McKennie was always caught in that troubled water.

McKennie has rarely played in his preferred position, which is the most advanced of the three midfielders. He was a deep winger in a 4-4-2 during his time at Juve, and more recently, he essentially played full-back because Allegri put him in this mutated 3-6-1 they were running. When Juventus played 4-3-3, it was difficult for McKennie to break into midfield in front of Adrien Rabiot, Manuel Locatelli, Federico Bernardeschi, or others. Injuries didn’t help, as McKennie was essentially sidelined from February 2022 until the end of last season.

Marching together… maybe

This does not mean that everything will automatically be rosy in Leeds, and that is because of the high level strange that McKennie. It’s hard to know where he fits in for Jesse Marsch as well. In recent weeks, Marsch has deployed Leeds in a 4-2-3-1, a formation that does not accommodate McKennie anywhere. He doesn’t defend well enough to be one of two midfielders, and he isn’t good enough with touch and passing to be a number. 10 in that formation. It’s not that the change in formation brought a big turnaround for Leeds, but in the last seven matches they lost only once, and that was away at Aston Villa where they were clearly the better team and were unlucky. But then, they only won two of those seven games.

Maybe Marsch wants to go back to a 4-3-3 and put Tyler Adams back in the sole holding role, with Marco Roca as the link between Adams and McKennie. But shifting the entire team around a new signing has its dangers. Leeds have signed a new striker in Georginio Rutter, which will return Rodrygo to his more natural inverted wing on the right. But still, if Marsch doesn’t stick to just 4-3-3, then McKennie becomes the same strange combination as he was with Juve. McKennie still does only one thing very well, and that is yes arrive late in the box to score a goal. Luckily for him, that’s the ultimate skill of a midfielder.

Also, McKennie’s tendency to drop a meter of crap on him won’t work in the Premier League or at Leeds. Especially as Leeds will need every point they can get to avoid relegation. Marsch’s style is the most intense, and McKennie can fit into that when he wants to. He just didn’t always want to. Leeds will defend a lot, and they want to attack at a fast pace. Does McKennie have the desire to conquer so much of the field so quickly that he does what he does best?

Still, the more USMNT players we can get into what is arguably the best league in the world, the better for everyone. McKennie wasn’t the only USMNT player in transfer news, as word got out yesterday that Antonee Robinson was the subject of the investigation from Manchester City to replace Joao Cancelo at left back. It looks like it may have cooled off by summer, but it’s still a tantalizing, if confusing, prospect. Pep Guardiola doesn’t really use his full-backs like everyone else, dropping up and down the wing to defend and join the attack. Cancelo’s role was to join central midfield when City had the ball, with the second back usually forming a back three with two centre-backs with City in possession. Rico Lewis recently took over the former role with Cancelo’s apparent ouster. Robinson doesn’t seem to fit into either role, but Pep has reshaped players before.

Things are happening and now they have a whole new perspective with a big tournament suddenly much closer on the horizon.

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