Weston McKennie to Leeds hasn't worked out - so where does the USMNT star go from here?

Comments (0)
Weston McKennie dejected Leeds 2022-23
Getty Images
Weston McKennie's loan move to Leeds has not gone to plan, with his new club in the midst of a relegation battle - but there is time to turn it around

Leeds' next three matches could very well determine their Premier League future; Fulham, Leicester and Bournemouth - all winnable games for a team that, by the end of that stretch, should know roughly where they stand heading into the home straight.

The stakes are high for Leeds, no doubt, but they may be even higher for Weston McKennie.

Even with the threat of relegation looming large, no Leeds player faces as much uncertainty as the USMNT midfielder, who finds himself in a precarious position. His future is directly tied to what happens to Leeds in these next few weeks, and there is an argument to be made that relegation may just be a blessing in disguise.

No-one at Elland Road will want to make that argument, though - least of all McKennie. He was brought in in January to help this club stay in the Premier League and, as things stand, they have a fighting chance. Despite his loan from Juventus not going as well as any would have hoped, it will all come down to a final set of games for McKennie.

This page contains affiliate links. When you subscribe through the links provided, we may earn a commission.

Sign up here for MLS Season Pass through Apple TV and watch every MLS match, including the playoffs!

  1. The makings of a loan

    The makings of a loan

    After narrowly avoiding the drop last season, Jesse Marsch moved to bring in a familiar face in January. Just weeks earlier, McKennie had partnered Tyler Adams to help boss the USMNT's draw with England, and so Leeds lined up a reunion between the two at the heart of their midfield.

    McKennie, though, had options. He could remain at Juventus and continue to fight for his place, and there were other suitors, too, with clubs like Fulham and Aston Villa rumored to be interested.

    We know what happened next. McKennie made the move to Leeds, joining Adams, Marsch and USMNT team-mate Brenden Aaronson.

    Just under three months later and Leeds are still struggling. They're 16th in the Premier League, just two points clear of the relegation zone.

    Fulham, meanwhile, who will face Leeds this weekend, sit 10th with an outside chance of a European spot. Aston Villa are all the way up in sixth as they push for a miracle run to the top four.

    In another world, McKennie would be helping one of those teams push for a continental place. Instead, he may now be a key figure in Leeds' fate as they look to avoid tumbling down to the Championship.

  2. An up-and-down spell

    An up-and-down spell

    The best way to describe McKennie's Leeds tenure so far? A rollercoaster.

    There have been notable highs, with the midfielder putting in a standout performance in a 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest on April 4. That win pushed Leeds up to 13th, seemingly giving them a bit of breathing room in the relegation fight.

    That breathing room has been exhausted now though. Leeds have conceded 11 goals in their last two matches, getting thumped by both Crystal Palace and Liverpool. In the latter match, McKennie was among the worst performers in a Leeds side full of them, with his giveaway springing the counter for Liverpool's second.

    In total, McKennie has featured 12 times for the club in the Premier League and, while he has had some good games, he hasn't made much of a difference. At the time of his signing, he was seen as a Champions League-level acquisition from a massive club, a player with the quality that would help lift the Leeds squad.

    He is still that player, one that can operate at a high level, but those types of performances have been few and far between since his Premier League arrival.

  3. The Adams asterisk
    Getty Images

    The Adams asterisk

    McKennie's recent struggles do come with a caveat, though: there's an Adams-sized hole right in the center of midfield.

    Adams went down with a hamstring injury in mid-March, leaving Leeds without their midfield stopper. In his first Premier League season, the USMNT captain has been among Leeds' better players, emerging as a top No.6 and something of a fan favorite in Yorkshire.

    His absence has been felt in a major way. Without the young American in midfield, Leeds are lacking their bite in the central areas. And, as a result, they have routinely been carved up on counterattacks that Adams normally would help to prevent.

    That has been plain for all to see in recent games, with McKennie at the center of Leeds' demolitions by Palace and Liverpool.

    With Adams out, McKennie has been deployed next to Marc Roca in a double pivot. The problem? Neither are pure holding midfielders. McKennie is best in a midfield three with a no.6 behind him, allowing him to drive forward and impact the attack. Roca, meanwhile, is best as a deep-lying playmaker with a runner, like Adams, next to him to do the dirty work.

    Brentford boss Thomas Frank is among those that believes McKennie has been miscast since Adams' injury, with his attacking instincts making him a poor fit next to Roca in a two-man unit.

    "I think he is too high," Frank told Premier League Productions. "I don’t know exactly what they want. But there is no holding midfielder."

    Adams' absence has made all the difference, but it's something that McKennie and Leeds must live with, even if there is an outside chance he returns before the end of the season.

  4. What comes next
    Getty Images

    What comes next

    Heading into the summer, we really have no idea where McKennie will be playing next season.

    He remains a Juventus player, of course, but the fact that they loaned him out shows he does not form part of their long-term plans. The recent reversal of the club's 15-point deduction also gives them Champions League hopes, meaning they well be able to spend big this summer and render McKennie even more surplus to requirments.

    McKennie could, of course, remain at Leeds, who reportedly have an option to buy at the end of the loan. That option will most certainly not be exercised if they are relegated to the Championship, with the USMNT forming part of a mass exodus. Because of that, there's an argument to be made that a Leeds' relegation may actually help McKennie, as it will allow him to get out of a club that is stuck fighting to survive in the Premier League year after year.

    There's also the chance that McKennie goes elsewhere and, right now, this looks like it may be the best option. He had plenty of suitors in January, as we've mentioned, with Fulham and Villa among those interested. He'll have admirers back in Germany from his time at Schalke and there are plenty of others in Europe that would love to roll the dice on a World Cup starter.

    The fact is that McKennie would be a better player on a better team, one where he isn't asked to do as much defensively. He is not a No.6 and is not best utilized in a double-pivot, something which has been made painfully obvious during his time with Leeds. A move to a more competitive side would likely work wonders, if McKennie could find one.

    The question will now be how much this loan spell has impacted his value. There's no doubt it has dipped, given his up-and-down Premier League spell, but has this loan move scared off any of his suitors? Would a club like Aston Villa still be interested? Given what we've seen, are we sure that Leeds would still be interested, given the reported £30 million ($37m) price tag?

    These are all questions that will have to be answered in the coming weeks and months.

  5. A long way to go
    Getty Images

    A long way to go

    There are just seven games remaining in Leeds' Premier League campaign, but it's these coming three that will likely decide where they'll be playing next season.

    Fulham away, Leicester at home and Bournemouth away are, on paper, all winnable games. The latter two, in particular, are essentially in the must-win category as Leeds must take points off their relegation rivals.

    After that trio of games, though, things become more difficult. In their final four matches, Leeds face Manchester City, Newcastle and Tottenham - all teams that could very well finish in the top four. Manchester City will be as ruthless as ever as they look to chase down Arsenal or consolidate their own lead at the top, while Newcastle and Spurs may well be duking it out for fourth at the time of their respective clashes with Leeds.

    The one winnable match in that final four? A visit to West Ham on May 21 for their penultimate match of the season. West Ham, like Leeds, Leicester and Bournemouth, are in this massive relegation battle, with eight teams within seven points of dropping down.

    Five of those eight will survive to fight another day. For Leeds to be one of them, McKennie will likely need to be among those to step up during this vital stretch as all involved look to salvage a season that could still go terribly wrong.