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SSFC Spotlight: Joe Scally is an emerging star at Borussia Mönchengladbach

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Another American is succeeding in the Bundesliga.

Borussia Mönchengladbach v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team’s embarrassment of riches at the fullback position continues to grow. In his first full season at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Joe Scally has played every minute for the first team, becoming a key player for the five-time Bundesliga champions. The 18-year-old appears to have landed in an ideal spot, which could vault him up Gregg Berhalter’s depth chart earlier than expected.

Scally was born in Lake Grove, New York, playing with the Sachem Destroyers, Long Island Rough Riders, and Eastern New York Olympic Development Program, described as “beyond his years technically, tactically, and psychologically.” After being cut at a New York Red Bulls’ tryout, he joined the New York City FC Academy in 2015. His decorated youth career included being named to the Development Academy East Conference Best XI, claiming the 2018 Development Academy National Championship, and winning the Premier Division at the 2017 Generation adidas Cup. Competing alongside “best friend” Giovanni Reyna, the latter competition included victories over Deportivo Saprissa, Pumas, and Tigres. The club consistently pushed him into higher age levels, while also changing his position from central midfielder to right back, a road that led to the first team.

In 2018, NYCFC signed him to a Homegrown contract, the second-youngest player in Major League Soccer history. “Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons,” then-sporting director Claudio Reyna told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes for a right back. He’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Scally delayed full training with the first team until finishing his freshman year of school. His professional debut came in the U.S. Open Cup, playing 33 minutes in a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, mere hours after taking a social studies exam. He made the match day squad three more times but not appear. Then-manager Patrick Vieira described him as having a “really strong personality,” recently sharing that the defender was “very advanced for his age” and “knew exactly how to implement the coaches’ instructions on the pitch.”

The next season, Scally failed to make the field, mostly due to a hip injury that required surgery. As with James Sands, the club was careful with young players, bringing their development along slowly and methodically. However, an overture came in from overseas that was “too good to ignore.”

Despite the lack of appearances, Mönchengladbach had a transfer offer accepted for a reported $2 million with “very achievable appearance bonuses” that could reach $7 million. NYCFC is also due an additional sell-on fee in the event of a future move. The then-16-year-old would join the German club in January of 2021, after turning 18, due to the lack of a European passport.

“We were surprised,” said NYCFC executive David Lee. “We all knew how good Joe is and why we signed him so early on in his career. But I definitely don’t think we were expecting any team to come in and buy him at this point in his development, purely because it isn’t particularly normal in MLS and the U.S. for that to happen.”

In 2020, Scally played in six matches, including his MLS debut. He made a single start, in a September draw against the New England Revolution. NYCFC had a lot of competition at the right back position, including an entrenched starter, requiring the teenager to be patient and continue working on the training ground.

Scally arrived in Mönchengladbach at the midpoint of the European season, with the winter break providing an ideal opportunity for a new addition to integrate into the squad. Due to a lingering ankle injury, he began with the reserves, making 15 appearances in the fourth-tier Regionalliga West. His first career goal came in a 1-0 victory over SC Fortuna Köln in May.

His dribbling, defensive duels, and pass interception statistics were some of the highest in the regional leagues, creating a buzz around Borussia-Park. “He played his first games when the U23s were going through a difficult phase, and he won them over straight away,” said director of youth Roland Virkus. “I didn’t expect it in this form – I have to admit that. The integration of a young player from abroad usually takes a little more time. It’s impressive how the boy has sold himself here so far. Joe is very smart, independent, and focused.”

Despite uncertainty when new manager Adi Hütter arrived over the summer, this current season has been an almost unprecedented level of initial success for an American in Europe. Since debuting in a DFB-Pokal victory over Kaiserslautern, Scally has played every minute for Mönchengladbach in seven league and cup matches. Die Fohlen is currently at 11th in the Bundesliga table, in no small part to the strong play of the emerging fullback.

The highlight is likely his first Bundesliga match against Bayern Munich. Starting at left back, Scally was able to stand toe-to-toe with Leroy Sane and Robert Lewandowski, holding the reigning champions to a 1-1 draw. The club’s fans voted him the Player of the Month for August. His strong performances have continued, which should attract the attention of perhaps another manager.

At the international level, Scally has received frequent call-ups with the U.S. youth national team program. He started all three matches at the 2019 U-17 World Cup, assisting on the lone goal scored at the tournament. The winless squad finished last in Group D with a single point. Still awaiting a senior debut, Berhalter elected to leave him out of the roster for the upcoming qualifying window, citing a lack of experience as the reasoning.

“I had a call with Joe probably about 15 minutes ago,” said the manager (via Brian Sciaretta of American Soccer Now). “I was explaining to him the reasoning but also letting him know he’s a guy we’re excited about. He’s been playing in the Bundesliga as a wingback, sometimes a fullback and doing a decent job. Most impressive is that at his age he’s been able to compete at that level... I think he will be a contributor in the future. What we’re talking about right now is guys who have somewhat been through it before... We look forward to getting Joe integrated.”

Scally has been described as a “very modern outside back who can cover the whole flank,” while creating in a variety of roles. His athleticism and attacking skills are impressive, possessing the necessary pace and stamina for a four-player or five-player back line. He thrives in overload situations on the wing, making deep, overlapping runs and hitting accurate crosses. At around 6’1”, his ability to win headers is also an asset to match his physicality in tackling and pressing range. An area for improvement is said to be operating in possession, particularly link-up play, although his passing numbers are in the 90th percentile for Bundesliga fullbacks.

The USMNT has another impressive young defender in the wings, who may become the best of the bunch. Scally spent years waiting patiently for his opportunity, which surprisingly came in one of the world’s best leagues instead of MLS. At only 18 years old, his career is only in the nascent stages, the start of a journey that could reach incredible heights.