USMNT’s Weston McKennie: Leeds loan was lowest career point

United States midfielder Weston McKennie has said that his loan spell at Leeds United in 2023 was the lowest point of his career, adding that he was the subject of racist abuse during his time playing in the Premier League.

McKennie, 25, joined Leeds in January 2023 as the club looked to bolster their squad in an attempt to avoid relegation to the Championship.

McKennie, who will play for the USMNT on home soil at the Copa América this month, made 20 appearances for Leeds in all competitions but failed to score a single goal as the club had its relegation confirmed on the final day of the season. McKennie has been linked with a move back to the Premier League this summer.

“My time at Leeds was probably one of my lower points, if not the lowest in my professional career,” McKennie said in an interview with The Athletic.

“I always look at the positive because I was at Juventus, playing week in and week out, and maybe I developed a little bit of comfortability or complacency, knowing I was going to play on the weekend. By going to Leeds and having the performance that I had there and the way that it just turned out in general — four coaches in five months, just nothing going to plan or how I imagined it.

“When I went there, my head was more: ‘OK, I want to go here, perform very well, put up numbers, help the team stay up and then hopefully another Premier League team, top five, comes in and sees how well I’ve played and then they would buy me.'”

As Leeds’ results in the second half of the 2022-23 season failed to improve, relations between the club and its fan base soured to the point where supporters booed the team and criticised the players during matches and on social media.

“I like to think I’m someone that has a thick skin,” McKennie said. “When you get little comments here and there, it’s pretty easy to ignore. But then when you open up your phone and always the first thing you see on social is something negative, it’s hard to ignore it.

“I guess it’s hard for me because I do love it when people can relate to me and I feel like I’m always a happy person.

“Football is a world where it’s sometimes unforgiving. People obviously don’t know what football players go through and the stress football players put on themselves to perform, because it’s not like we want to perform badly.

“It’s not like we want to lose games. It’s just sometimes you have ups and downs, so it hurts.

“It was probably the first time besides for the World Cup exit [in 2022] where I cried, after the last game of the season at Leeds, when we officially got relegated. I hate to lose and I felt like I really let down the expectations that people had of me going there.

“When people started attacking me — me as a person in general, not even with football — everyone knows that I’m more thick-boned than than some other players, in that my body shape is the way that it is. But when people started out saying, ‘You fat bastard’ and ‘you pig’ and ‘you monkey’ and stuff like that, people don’t really realise the effect that it has on people.

“I like to be happy and to make people happy, to make people laugh. So that was a little bit hard.”

McKennie rediscovered his form in the 2023-24 season having returned to parent club Juventus, making 34 appearances in Serie A and helping the club win the Coppa Italia.