'Adams does the running, I do the playing' - USMNT star McKennie in the perfect spot to unlock his potential at Leeds
When Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie get together, hilarity usually isn't far behind. The pair make up the perfect comedic duo. Adams is cast as the mature, composed straight man, the one that can generally be trusted to keep the peace. And then there's McKennie, the self-described social butterfly with a Harry Potter obsession who isn't afraid to make a joke at his own expense.
In September, as the two prepared for the World Cup, McKennie made one of those jokes, prompting even Adams to break character.
"As far as what me and Tyler have learned about each other," McKennie began, "it's that he does all the running, and I do all the playing!"
Cue immediate laughter from the two players and all involved in the U.S. men's national team media call. What made that quip so funny was that, like most good jokes, it was backed by a shred of truth.
On Monday, after several years of being miscast as Juventus' runner in a variety of different positions, McKennie joined Adams at Leeds United, uniting the USMNT's most loveable duo at Elland Road. It's a deal that will start off initially as a loan but, if all goes right, it will become permanent at the end of the season, keeping Adams and McKennie together for years to come.
The move sees McKennie become the latest USMNT star to join the 'Leeds United States of America' project, reuniting him with team-mates Adams and Brenden Aaronson as well as American head coach Jesse Marsch.
But this deal is about a lot more than just adding yet another American to the club. It may have been easier to convince McKennie to come due to the familiarity of those involved, but he wasn't signed simply because of his nationality.
In McKennie, Leeds get the midfielder they so desperately needed in January, having already addressed several other areas of the team earlier in the window. The club made big moves to sign Max Wober and Georginio Rutter, adding pieces both in defense and attack.
Midfield, then, was one place they were missing a piece, and they got it in McKennie. Given their position in the table, strengthening was vital, and Leeds certainly did so with players that can help in both the present and in the future.
The 24-year-old American is a dynamic, energetic, chaos-creating midfielder who makes a legitimate impact all over the field. He's a weapon on set-pieces, has gotten much better at arriving late into the box and, when needed, can help out in defense. In many ways, he's a good example of a modern No.8.
“I need to be able to go box-to-box, I need to be able to release my energy,” McKennie told Leeds Live. “I love [going] box-to-box, I love tackling, I love physicality, I love trash-talking, I love scoring goals. I love everything I feel like Leeds identifies with.”
But McKennie wasn't often played as a No.8 at Juventus, instead often miscast as a wide midfielder or as a No.6. With Juve often going with a 3-5-2, McKennie sometimes felt like a square peg being jammed into round hole after round hole.
He did well enough and was generally a regular for a team that is still one of the best in the world (despite recent scandals), but the American was never quite put in a position to produce his best.
Enter Leeds, a club that should give him the chance to do just that. With the likes of Adams and Marc Roca behind him, McKennie will be free. He'll be able to impact the game in a way similar to how he does with the USMNT.
The World Cup served as a perfect example of how he and Adams complement one another. With Adams emerging as arguably the best No.6 in Qatar, McKennie and Yunus Musah were allowed to offer a bit more in the attacking third. And, at least in the group stage, they caused havoc, dominating against Wales and Iran while going toe-to-toe with an England midfield that had two players that could be sold for nine figures at some point.
McKennie and Adams, individually, are already proven commodities at a high level, having played big roles for Champions League clubs. And, as a unit, there's a World Cup full of evidence to show that they are able to play with the very best.
This, of course, is all good news for the USMNT. Despite trading in the Champions League with Juve for the lower reaches of the Premier League with Leeds, McKennie's move is great news for the U.S., who can now watch two of their young pillars play and grow together week in, week out.
“We complement each other very well because we've known each other for so long,” McKennie said of Adams. “We have good chemistry and we always cover for each other.
“Whenever one person's out of position, the other one covers. [It] doesn't matter the distance you have to run to do it. It's always there. It's a brotherhood we have together.”
If Leeds keep their double pivot of Roca and Adams, and all signs would point to them doing just that, McKennie will be totally free to create even more havoc all over the field. He'll be thrilled with that idea, one would think, after being asked to do so many other things during his time in Italy.
McKennie also seems so much more suited to the Premier League than Serie A, as his energy will be put to better use in England than it ever was in Italy.
His addition, though, could cause Leeds to change shape to more of a 4-3-3, similar to how the USMNT plays. That scenario could, at some point, see all three Americans start together in central midfield, with Adams behind McKennie and Aaronson in what would be appointment viewing in the United States.
Regardless of how Marsch deploys him, McKennie seems to be in a place where he will be freer to be who wants to be as a player. He'll no longer be a small piece of a giant Juventus puzzle, but likely a big piece of what is already a pretty familiar Leeds midfield. He'll come in with instant chemistry, on and off the field, as Leeds look to keep their spot in the Premier League.
The fact is that the best version of McKennie that we've seen has come with Adams as his safety blanket, and the best version of Adams that we've seen has come with McKennie as his all-action running mate.
The pair already have plenty of memorable moments together dating back to their days as youth players. Over the next few months at least, there should be plenty more. There will be big games, big goals, big tackles, lots of trash talk and, most likely, a whole bunch of hilarious content for Leeds' social media team.
Years of experience together allow the two to play off each other well, on and off the field. The USMNT's most loveable comedic duo is taking on the Premier League, and who knows what sort of chaos they'll create next.