Ahead of this summer’s Copa America, perhaps no U.S. men’s national team player is in more impressive form than Weston McKennie. The midfielder played 90 minutes in Juventus’ 1-0 loss to Inter over the weekend, a clash between the top two teams that now means the victors have a four-point lead atop the Serie A standings. There were still positives to take away from Juventus‘ outing from Jesse Marsch’s point of view, as his former Leeds boss praised McKennie’s performance and described him as one of the standout players of the game.
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“The way that Juventus play, they want to make sure that they are always protecting the goal and not giving much away and they’re good defensively,” Marsch said on the latest episode of Call It What You Want, a CBS Sports podcast. “Knowing Weston’s personality, I know he wants to get out on the run a little more, I know he wants to use his aggressiveness a little bit more but I thought he was good in the match. In transition, he was their most dangerous player. He set up a play where [Dusan] Vlahovic should’ve scored in the first half and that would’ve given them a 1-0 lead and then I think the game could’ve looked a little bit differently.”
Marsch noted that McKennie’s showing against Inter was emblematic of an evolutionary season for the midfielder. He appeared not to be a part of Juventus’ plans and missed their preseason tour of the U.S. last summer but quickly gained favor with Massimiliano Allegri and has played 22 games this season, mastering a tactical style that broadens his skillset as a player and winning over locals in the process.
“Even reading some of the articles here [in Italy] about Weston, there’s a big appreciation for the way he’s playing this year,” Marsch said. “I think they’re talking about his fitness level, they’re talking about his productivity around the box and helping set up attacking plays and then also his responsibility and intelligence to help out the team defensively. It’s crazy. When you watch him in the match, he’s the defensive box. The next moment, he’s in the offensive box. He’s chasing, he’s running, he’s winning duels, he’s taking throw-ins, he’s winning duels on corner kicks and freekicks so he’s playing a big part of the success of Juve this year and it’s great to see him playing at such a high level.”
Marsch also notes that McKennie is finding a way to meld his tactical versatility and preferences with Juventus’ tactical demands.
“When you’re a player with flexibility, it can be a real positive but it can also mean that you never really carve out exactly what your position and role can be within a team and that sometimes can mean that the coach, just when he needs somebody, he knows he can rely on Weston to use him wherever,” he said. “Now, he’s played mostly the right eight but when they play their 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, Weston plays like an eight-ten and then [Adrien] Rabiot on the other side plays almost like an eight-six so they give Weston a lot of freedom to move around and I think that’s what he likes. He likes to be able to roam, to find the game, to understand tactical responsibility but to use his athleticism.”
McKennie’s success comes at a crucial time for the national team. The USMNT are months away from the Copa America, which they will use as a marker of their progress before the 2026 World Cup on home soil, where they hope to make an impressive showing.
The cycle between the 2022 World Cup and the 2026 event is also a transitional period for the core of the national team player pool, which includes McKennie. They became part of the fold as part of a reboot after the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and successfully reset the program by participating in the 2022 competition as the youngest team there. Now, though, the players head into 2026 with experience and will be expected to showcase their improvements once the World Cup comes to home soil.
Marsch singled out McKennie as someone who is on the right track, as well as outlined the next steps he needs to take to ensure he shows up as a better version of himself in two years.
“Next I think it’s just continuing to play a big role in the team, to keep himself fit, to become more and more of a leader, to take more responsibility in how the game plays out and not just focus on exactly what his role is but how to also be the guy in the team that wants the ball, that wants to be the gamechanger and he’s really close,” Marsch said. “I think he’s playing a big role in Juventus here and like I said, I think that’s been a big part of why they’ve been successful and why Weston’s fit in so well with [Massimiliano] Allegri, the team and everything else.”
It makes McKennie one of the top USMNT players to keep an eye on in the buildup to the 2026 World Cup, alongside the likes of Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, as a young group aim to make an impact in Europe’s top leagues before the competition.