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SSFC Spotlight: Taylor Booth seizing opportunity in Austria

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The young American is on loan from Bayern Munich.

TSV Prolactal Hartberg v spusu SKN St.Poelten - tipico Bundesliga Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

The journey of a young player abroad can sometimes be more difficult when undertaken at a giant club. The increased competition at all levels can prevent talents from establishing a place in the rotation, necessitating a move to a less prestigious environment. For Taylor Booth, a loan away from Bayern Munich is proving to be the right decision. The 19-year-old is enjoying the first professional action of his career at SKN St. Pölten and displaying the ability that birthed his initial hype as a prospect.

Booth faced adversity at a young age, born with the rare muscle condition known as torticollis or wry neck. “He went to physical therapy as an infant and he screamed constantly,” said his mother, Kelli. “Sometimes the condition will cure itself, but he had it so bad he had to do therapy. The kid had to have therapy for the first five months of his life, around the clock… So he’s gone from needing physical therapy as a baby to being on the U.S. national team.”

Booth joined the Real Salt Lake academy in 2016, moving to the club’s former residential facility in Arizona, and was a part of the U.S. U-17 Residency Program. Described as “a prodigy,” Top Drawer Soccer ranked the Eden, Utah native as the second-best player in his age group. Despite attempts to keep him in MLS, Bayern Munich pounced in January of 2019, signing the midfielder to a two-and-a-half year deal.

“It was my goal to play in Europe so it was an amazing feeling to sign for such a successful club,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune after joining the Bundesliga giants. “I’m extremely excited to finally be able to play matches, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. The German culture has taught me to never take a day off and to train 100% every day.”

The club saw “a lot of potential” in Booth, observing him for a long time before being “able to convince themselves of his special abilities [at a] trial.” Due to an Italian passport, he was able to join the 30-time German champions at the age of 17. His time in Bavaria began with the U-19 team, occasionally playing with the reserves in the third-division. Multiple standout performances in the UEFA Youth League drew the attention of other clubs.

With limited opportunities for advancement in the summer of 2020, he began to look elsewhere. Tottenham was rumored to be interested after his two-assist performance against them in the UEFA Youth League. However, a move would not happen for another half-year, with reserve team appearances limited due to a torn ankle ligament.

Following a trial, Booth moved to SKN St. Pölten on loan in February. After failing to receive consistent playing time with the Bayern reserves, the Austrian Bundesliga club allowed him to break into the professional ranks at a more accessible level. The short-term deal lasts through the end of the season, with sporting director Georg Zellhofer praising his “good understanding of the game” and “creativity” in the attack.

“I was excited,” Booth told American Soccer Now. “I felt like I needed a move and I was excited for the challenge… I was super excited to get out here and start training with them for the trial week and really see what everything was. Everything went well and they wanted to take me on loan. I was really happy. I felt like it was the correct move for the next step in my career.”

His loan got off to a fantastic start. In his first appearance, he registered an assist in the 1-1 draw against SV Ried. Booth followed that performance with another helper in the next week’s 1-0 victory over WSG Tirol. His first goal came in a 4-1 loss to the dominant Red Bull Salzburg, a well-taken volley from outside of the box.

After another finish against TSV Hartberg, the 19-year-old has two goals and two assists in six Bundesliga matches. The adjustment to Austria has been a “learning process” due to the league’s “more robust” style when compared to youth an reserves, a necessary step in his development. St. Pölten is struggling to avoid the drop, currently last in the table despite Booth’s regular production. He remains focused on “continuously improving” and “helping the team with his performance,” believing the group can escape the depths of the relegation zone.

At the international level, Booth has been a member of the U.S. national team program from an early age. The second-youngest member of the squad that competed at the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India, he made two appearances, including starting at center midfielder against England in the quarterfinal. Like many players, the cancellation of the 2021 U-20 World Cup denied the opportunity to gain more experience, a thoroughly disheartening decision that left him “super, super bummed.”

Able to line up at any midfield position, Booth professes a preference for the “more attacking” 8 and 10 roles. “I can always get on the ball,” he told Goal. “I love to have the ball at my feet. I love being involved in the game, getting my teammates involved in the game, and I love being able to dictate the tempo of the game.”

This positional versatility is a product of his technical ability, sharp passing, and off ball movement. His strength is combining with teammates to work out of trouble and break into the final third, playing a variety of short and long passes. Serving as something of a metronome for St. Pölten, Booth is always looking to move forward, take advantage of available space, and push the tempo. While confessing a distaste for overly physical play, he is “working hard” to become stronger and is “not too good for a tackle” on defense.

Some would falter after being sent away from a big club on loan for the first time, beginning a permanent decline that will last an entire career. For the next few weeks, Booth can continue to perform at a high level in Austria, building his reputation as a quality young player. Whether his future lies at Bayern Munich remains to be seen, but past rumored interest from other teams indicates he will find a place in a top division somewhere. As another American midfielder improving in Europe, his initial success bodes well for the national team, whose outlook appears brighter with each passing week.