'We're happy to have each other' - USMNT friends Tim Weah and Weston McKennie fighting for the same spot at Juventus

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Weah McKennie USMNT 2022
The two Americans are splitting time in one position on the club level as they make their return to the international stage.

Weston McKennie said it in a joking tone, with his trademark smile on his face, but there was truth to his statement. Sat next to Tim Weah, his club and international teammate, McKennie offered a blunt assessment of their careers right now, all while managing to poke fun at the irony of the situation.

"You're looking at the starting right wing-back and the backup right wing-back right now!" he quipped. And that really is the best way to describe it right now. The current situation at Juventus sees the two U.S. men's national team stars competing for the same spot, one which neither of them are expected to play on the international level. Both McKennie and Weah see the fun in it all, and both are seemingly enjoying the chance to compete with and against someone that they've long called a friend.

It's a fun, short-term subplot. Weah, Juve's big summer signing, is expected to play in that wingback spot for years to come after the departure of Juan Cuadrado. McKennie, recently returned from his loan spell at Leeds, is hoping to play his way back into a long-term future in the midfield. In the here and now, if you tune into a Juve game, it's almost guaranteed that you'll see a USMNT star on the field making things happen on that right-hand side.

That's the short-term, though. What about the long? As both McKennie and Weah prepare for this 2026 World Cup cycle, there are questions about where and how they'll fit in with this USMNT. The 2022 cycle is over, and both played massive parts in the leadup to and after the World Cup but, as they both adjust to their own situations at the club level, their adaptation back to the USMNT is one of the storylines to watch throughout the coming year leading up to the Copa America.

  1. 2022 heroics and 2023 changes

    2022 heroics and 2023 changes

    Both McKennie and Weah came into the fold following the USMNT's 2018 World Cup qualifying disaster, and both were ever-present on the road all the way to Qatar.

    The two were both starters for the USMNT leading up to and during the World Cup, with Weah famously scoring the opening goal in the tournament-opening draw with Wales. McKennie, meanwhile, was a key figure in the U.S. midfield, putting in a fantastic shift in the draw with England.

    However, as 2023 began, both found themselves in difficult places with their clubs. Never quite a starter at Lille, Weah began a transition to wing-back that would prove career-altering. McKennie, meanwhile, went out on loan to Leeds, having lost his place in the Juve midfield.

    McKennie's move to England to play alongside Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson did not go to plan. However, by returning to Juventus this summer, McKennie has been given the opportunity to link up with another USMNT teammate: Weah

  2. Weah's move to Juve

    Weah's move to Juve

    Weah's move to wing-back was basically due to an emergency. With Lille dealing with a slew of injuries, the club turned to Weah, who wasn't quite able to crack the club's starting XI on the wing due to his lack of goals.

    It was his time at wingback that caught Juve's attention, though, as the Italian giants quickly identified him as a player that could step right into their XI. With longtime starter Juan Cuadrado on his way out, the club paid a relatively cheap fee of €12 million ($13.15m/£10.3m) to sign Weah.

    The American jumped at the chance. Not only would a move to Juventus be a massive step up in his career, it would also give him a more feasible route to more playing time than he had at Lille. It would also give him a chance to play in a league he's dreamed of since childhood, having grown up hearing stories of his father, George, dominating with AC Milan.

    And finally, it gave him the chance to link up with McKennie, who has been key in helping him adapt to life in Turin.

    "I think it's definitely a big positive because we already have a pretty good understanding," he said. "I understand how he plays, he understands how I play, so our chemistry is really good. Now that we're on the same team training everyday, it's just going to make it even better when we come into U.S. camp. It's all very fluid, so hopefully that translates to the games.

    "We're just happy. We're happy to be in this moment. We're happy to have each other in Turin and in the national team, so we're just gonna take it step by step and enjoy."

    As for McKennie, he's relishing the chance to play with one of his teammates again. Despite generally feeling comfortable with life abroad due to a military-influenced upbringing that produced frequent relocations, McKennie is glad to have a friend like Weah alongside him in Turin.

    "We're together every day, obviously," McKenne said. "I know, outside of the field, that maybe I can be a little bit too much for him at some times! On the field, though, like he said, we have a good understanding of each other and coming into [USMNT] camp, it's good to have a travel partner."

  3. Life at wing-back

    Life at wing-back

    Since his arrival, Weah has been Juventus' primary right wing-back, starting two of the club's three games on the right-hand side. Thus far, he's thrived in the role, showing all of the attacking qualities that have made him so important for the USMNT.

    Pace is obviously one of Weah's big assets, and that is certainly important in that wide position, but the 23-year-old American is also comfortable when the ball does get to his feet. His crossing has looked improved during the start to the season, and he's never been afraid to take people on.

    "It's been interesting," Weah said of his adjustment to the position. "Last season, getting my first experience playing that position was fine. It was still very much a learning phase for me and coming into Juve, it was fun. It was huge.

    "Wes was helping a lot with just understanding a lot of things, but I think Juve was more of a defensive team last year and the club definitely brought me into to be more play more of an attacking role coming out of the back, which is there's something I love doing: making runs at the defense and just applying pressure. That's really fun.

    "[Juventus boss Massimiliano] Allegri has basically allowed me to do whatever I want while still keeping the importance to whatever technical work we have. It's not that different. I just have to defend a little bit more but I'm having fun. I'm basically doing the same things I'm doing as a winger, so it's definitely fun."

    As for McKennie, he started Juve's most recent match, a win over Empoli, after coming off the bench to replace Weah in each of Juve's first two games. As he said, thus far, he's Weah's backup, but he's done well in the role so far.

    McKennie is not as dynamic as Weah by any stretch, but he is an intelligent and physical presence. His ability on set pieces is world class, and he could have had a few chances on the back post this season if he had been spotted by teammates. While he doesn't have the on-ball ability of Weah, he is a better defender, which makes sense given his years spent in the midfield.

    Still, while Weah's situation is simple enough, McKennie's, in the long-term, isn't quite ideal, especially when it comes to the USMNT.

  4. Differing USMNT roles

    Differing USMNT roles

    For the USMNT's two upcoming friendlies, McKennie and Weah will almost certainly revert back to their familiar positions. McKennie will start in midfield, either in a two or three-man group, depending on the tactics. Weah will be played on the right-wing, with U.S. Soccer's press officer pointing out on Thursday that he is, in fact, listed as a forward among this group.

    "Obviously, our roles in the national team are a little bit different," McKennie said. "Here, I'm seen as an eight, Tim is seen as a winger. On our club team, we're right wing-back and right wing-back/midfielder, I don't really know!"

    For Weah, the transition will be relatively simple. He'll be asked to do many of the same things, just further up the field. He'll be asked to run down that side, create havoc and, at times, drop back a bit to help protect Sergino Dest when the PSV star goes on his own journeys forward.

    McKennie, too, can carry his skillset back and forth. He's not being asked to play in goal or anything; he's simply moving back to his favored position, the one he'd ideally like to be playing at the club level.

    "With us being able to play so many different positions and being able to adapt to so many situations, I think it's a good quality to have," McKennie said. "I don't think that we really stress that much about it. We both love one thing, that I know for sure: to win. We're those types of players that I feel are very unselfish and kind of feel like 'I want to do anything that I can to help the team win.'

    "Whether that's being supportive from the bench, whether that's playing out of position, whether that's not being on a roster, it doesn't really matter. The success of the team is most important, I believe.

    The two players aren't the least bit concerned about moving from one position to the other, and Gregg Berhalter likely won't be either. For Berhalter, the most important thing is to see as many of his players as possible on the field as much as possible.

    After this camp, though, the question becomes what that will look like for Weah and McKennie as they continue to split minutes.

  5. The road ahead

    The road ahead

    It's early in the season, so we don't yet know how things will shake out. Will McKennie remain shoehorned in as Weah's makeshift backup? Can he play his way into a regular spot in midfield? And, if he can't, if he does remain behind Weah in the pecking order, what does the split look like? 60-40? 70-30? 90-10?

    That will be up to Allegri, and those answers will come over the next few months. After months of transfer speculation, McKennie says he isn't thinking about his future. Instead, he remains determined to prove his worth to anyone that doubts his place at Juventus.

    A good run with the USMNT would be a heck of a start. These games against Uzbekistan and Oman should be something of a showcase, a solid warmup ahead of October's clashes with Ghana and Germany. International games can always serve as a springboard for players needing a bit of a leap, and these games can be that for McKennie as he looks to seal a bigger role.

    As for Weah, it's a chance to get back on the attacking foot and maybe get a goal or two to bring back to Juve. He's made a fantastic first impression, having been one of Juve's better players in his appearances so far, and he'll hope that can continue through this camp and into the rest of his debut season in Turin.

    "We just know we have a job to do,'' Weah said. "When we come in, we have to do our job. I think that's the most important thing and I think the main focus for us is to continue growing as athletes and as men and just do what we have to do to get the job done.

    "We're both pretty much zoned in and focused."