A New Year and an ever-improving Weston McKennie is still providing the smiles and good cheer as he gets set to help high-flying Schalke kick on in the second half of a thus far exceptional Bundesliga campaign for the Royal Blues.

Under the leadership of their young, visionary coach, Domenico Tedesco, the Gelsenkirchen outfit finished off 2017 second in the standings behind defending champions Bayern Munich. It’s a far cry from where Schalke were just one year ago. Then, Die Knappen were tenth, while a young McKennie was still learning his trade with the club’s Under-19s.

Fast forward 365 days, and the burgeoning midfielder has 14 Bundesliga appearances under his belt along with a first senior appearance, and a goal, for the USMNT. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real,” a beaming McKennie told Schalke’s official website. “My family, my teammates, the coaches and lots of other people at Schalke have been really helpful to this point in my journey, and I’m really thankful for that.”

That journey has only just begun for McKennie, who has made nine Bundesliga starts under Tedesco this term. “[The coach] trusts me, and just like [Schalke U19 tactician] Norbert Elgert, he’s helping me to get better,” the Dallas native continued. “I feel very much at home here and I look forward to something new every day when I turn up at the club’s grounds. I would never have come close to going anywhere else, if I was to know how perfect Schalke was going to be for me.”

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It isn’t the first time McKennie has cited zero regrets about joining up with Die Königsblauen in 2016. Having had to settle and adapt quickly in North Rhine-Westphalia, the teenager was shown the ropes by influential youth coach Elgert. “Norbert Elgert saw something in me,” McKennie explained.

“In my own eyes I didn’t really play that well [in that first Schalke trial match] maybe because I was a little nervous,” he continued. “[But Elgert] said that we had time to help me develop. It was an amazing feeling and made me really believe in myself. I knew this was the place for me before it had even really begun.”

And how it has now really begun for the player who once spent three years in Kaiserslautern while his military father was based there. Indeed, it was back to his family to kick back and take stock that McKennie went over the recent Christmas period. “I was in Orlando for a bit and then I travelled to Dallas on Christmas Eve as my family lives there,” he explained to Schalke04.de. “I spent New Year with my parents, brother and sister by watching a comedy show followed by watching a fireworks display.”

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Often watching his career develop from afar, the McKennie family, “… regularly stay up late so that they won’t miss any of my games. Sometimes, they will record the games and watch them a bit later because of the time difference.” However, there was a visit by the McKennies to Germany this season as they arrived to see their son play all 90 minutes of Schalke’s 2-0 home win against Hamburg on Matchday 12, before attending the subsequent 4-4 draw against Borussia Dortmund.

“My mum and dad were there in the VELTINS-Arena to watch our victory over Hamburg live. They were also there for the derby. They were completely fascinated with that crazy game,” the midfielder enthused.

With the festive celebrations over, it’s back to work for a Schalke side who travelled to Benidorm for some warm-weather training prior to a Matchday 18 meeting with RB Leipzig next Saturday. For McKennie, the aim is for his team to begin the New Year in the same successful vein they ended the old. “I’m a really positive person, and I love to laugh a lot. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get down to business when needs be,” he assured.

“I hope that we continue to rack up points and show how good we are as a team,” the midfielder added. “I want to contribute to that as best I can. The team spirit is amazing. I think that rubs off on the fans too. My personal goal is very clear: to get better each and every day. I’m working really hard to do that.”

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