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USMNT’s Tim Weah, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie optimistic despite racism in European soccer’s top leagues

Black American standouts are excited to be playing key roles at two of Italy’s biggest clubs, Juventus and AC Milan

HARTFORD, Conn. — The smiles on the faces of members of the United States men’s national team were brighter than the sun at UConn’s Rentschler Field ahead of their October international friendly matches against Germany and Ghana.

Amongst those jovial American individuals were three of the squad’s most exciting players participating this club soccer season in the famed Italian league, Serie A. The comedy act that is midfielder Weston McKennie, the cool demeanor of forward Tim Weah and the soft-spoken midfielder Yunus Musah were proper examples of a team building from a successful June of winning the Concacaf Nations League and consolidating that title with encouraging starts for many U.S. men’s soccer first-team regulars.

McKennie and Weah have made positive contributions to Juventus’ start of the 2023-24 campaign, with McKennie’s return to Turin, Italy, greatly aiding in Weah’s big-money arrival from French side Lille. Musah, meanwhile, has teamed with USMNT teammate Christian Pulisic at AC Milan to make an instant impact, placing the Rossoneri at the top of the league standings.

Witnessing all three in such healthy, optimistic places was far from a guarantee for several reasons.

Germany midfielder Florian Wirtz (right) chases United States midfielder Yunus Musah (left) during a match between the United States and Germany on Oct. 14 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

McKennie was coming off a summer of uncertainty over his club future after a frustrating loan period at Leeds United, where he and his USMNT teammates Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson witnessed firsthand the relegation (demotion) of the popular English club from the Premier League. As Weah faced major expectations as the expected replacement of club legend Juan Cuadrado on the right side in manager Massimiliano Allegri’s system, Weah wasn’t sure if McKennie would stay at Juventus. Musah was coming off a season of near relegation at Valencia and was in and out of the starting lineup there, along with arriving in a new country and club. But all of those normal challenges for any player going to elite teams pale compared to the difficulties that Black players have sometimes faced playing in Italy.

Nothing demonstrates that more than the situation that forward Victor Osimhen is going through with his club Napoli. The Nigerian superstar is furious at his club for its inexplicable posting on TikTok of two meme-driven videos that made fun of him. Many viewed the videos, which included him singing that he was a “coconut,” as inherently racist.

Thankfully for Weah, Musah and McKennie, they are having dissimilar experiences at their Italian clubs compared to Osimhen.

“I didn’t even really know what happened, to be honest,” Weah told Andscape. “I didn’t see the video, I don’t know what really happened. I think that’s a situation that Victor figured out with Napoli.” Osimhen has still decided to play and has scored goals for his club since the incident, but has chosen not to celebrate after scoring. “I’m happy they’re done with it, and he can focus on doing well for the club.

“The fans at Juve, I’m loving every minute of it. They’re passionate and I love representing the club and playing for them.”

Musah told Andscape that he found the Osimhen-Napoli controversy “unfortunate” and “hoped the situation would work itself out.”

This comes off the back of Musah witnessing Valencia fans’ alleged racism toward Real Madrid forward Vinicius Júnior at the Mestalla in May. But Musah expressed his delight in calling San Siro his new home.

“This is so fun to play so many games, getting game time, winning games. It’s been really fun,” Musah said. “It’s been a really fun process, I’m enjoying being at the new club as well. So I just want to carry on and do well and try to get as many minutes as possible.”

Germany midfielder Pascal Groß (left) battles against United States midfielder Weston McKennie (right) during the first half of an international friendly match at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field on Oct. 14 in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Mark Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

McKennie has proved all the doubters wrong who thought he would never be in favor with Allegri by returning to Turin and picking up from his first Juve stint to be a key starter. The charismatic center midfielder is delighted that Weah has tag-teamed with him in Turin, Italy, including starting alongside each other for the first time in Juventus colors in their 2-0 rivalry win over crosstown foes Torino.

“My preseason I really wanted to come back to Juventus and prove that I can hang, that I can show myself that I still deserve to play at a level like that,” McKennie said. “I think obviously I’m not a player that shies away from people doubting me or shying away from challenges. So it was good to be able to come back and be able to prove that I still belong, that I can still play at that level.

“Soccer is a funny, funny spot. It’s one of those things that me and Tim, we have a great bond together, on and off the field, we understand each other. And whether one is starting or not, we continuously still push each other and are happy for each other as well. The last game we were able to be on the field at the same time, just to be able to showcase the connection that we had like we did in the preseason so hopefully we’ll see more of that in the future going forward.”

It’s a credit to McKennie, Musah and Weah that things are going well for them in their homes away from home. Even after the competitive but still disappointing 3-1 loss to Germany in the Saturday friendly, mostly upbeat vibes remained. Weah enthusiastically expressed to Andscape his brotherhood with some of Germany’s star Black players.

“Leroy [Sané] is my boy,” he said. “Leroy, Toni Rüdiger, definitely guys I look up to. We showed on the field, we shared a lot of love together. We chopped it up for a minute. I’m happy for them, they’re doing well at their clubs.” Sané is a winger for Bayern Munich and Rüdiger is a defender for Real Madrid. “Obviously it sucks to lose, but I’m happy to see guys of the same color, brothers, succeeding,” Weah said.

And Sané and Rüdiger would agree that Weah, along with McKennie and Musah, are succeeding for their teams too. It is hoped that their smiles will continue to be on display in Italy as well.

Andrew Jones is a sports, political and culture writer whose work has appeared on The Guardian, MSNBC, Ebony Magazine, Salon, SB Nation and The Intercept. He is also proud of his Brooklynite, "Do or Die" Bed-Stuy ways.