Nearly two years ago in November 2019, it was announced that Borussia Moenchengladbach had reached an agreement with New York City FC to acquire young American defender Joe Scally on a permanent transfer for a reported transfer fee in the vicinity of $4 million – in which he was allowed to remain with New York City through the 2020 season.
At the time, the transfer was extremely surprising. Scally was a 16-year-old who rarely played for NYCFC. He also failed to stand out with the United States at the 2017 U-17 World Cup just a month before. It raised the question of why one of the Bundesliga's most renowned clubs would pay such a high price for a very young and very unproven American.
Fast forward to September 2021, the move makes sense and Gladbach looks wise for having spent the resources to scout very young American players and having found what looks to be a gem.
Scally, 18, had a lot of things break his way this summer. For one, Adi Hütter became Gladbach’s head coach at the start of preseason. From there, Scally had a manager who was interested in his abilities. Second, Scally was afforded an opportunity when injuries created an opening for playing time.
Third, and most importantly, Scally played well when given the chance. Last season, the Long Island native impressed with Gladbach’s U-23 team and that allowed him to participate in preseason with the first team – where he continued to play well. When Gladbach’s left back, Ramy Bensebaini, suffered an injury while with the Algerian national team, Scally was given the opportunity to start in the Bundesliga season opener against perennial champions Bayern Munich. Prior to a few limited games in the spring with Gladbach’s youth teams, he had never played left back before
In that game against Bayern, which finished in a 1-1 draw, Scally enjoyed a breakout performance that earned him accolades across Germany for his ability to shut down Bayern’s German international Leroy Sane.
“You get the schedule and you see Bayern Munich as the first game, you're like 'oh my God, this is a game I want to play in,'” Scally said. “You're going against Robert Lewandowski, Sane, and all these guys you watch. It's something that can make your career and make you known forever. I just knew I had to leave everything out there for this game and perform as well as I can. I think I did a good job at it.
"For me, it felt like a long time coming because in New York I never really got the opportunity to play," he added. "Maybe for other people, it seemed like it really happened quickly. But for me it's been a long time coming, I took my opportunity, and I was finally able to show what I could do."
The second game was difficult for Scally as he struggled, along with everyone else on Gladbach, in an ugly 4-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen. In that loss, Gladbach’s right back, Stefan Lainer, suffered a broken ankle and Scally shifted to his preferred right back position. The following week before the start of the international window, Scally remained at right back in a 2-1 loss to Union Berlin.• Sunday, ESPN+ Borussia M'gladbach-Arminia Bielefeld 1:20 pm ET.
Now with the Bundesliga set to resume from the September window this weekend, Scally looks set for a continued run of starts with the long-term injury to Lainer. Gladbach has had a poor start to the season with just one point from three games. The future widely considered to be bright for Scally but he will have to adjust and mature quickly as he is going to have to be part of the solution to mounting problems that have surfaced. On Sunday, Gladbach will host Arminia Bielefeld.
When Scally left NYCFC following the 2020 season he was given a period of adjustment and was allowed to continue his development with the club’s youth teams and outside the intense media scrutiny. The past few months have forced him to almost go from first gear and into fifth gear with almost no stops in between.
Scally began his professional career in 2018 when, at the age of 15, he signed a contract with NYCFC and became the club’s second ever homegrown behind current U.S. international James Sands. But unlike Sands, Scally rarely played for NYCFC. It wasn’t until the 2020 season when he made his debut and he finished his career in New York with just five appearances totalling 68 minutes.
Despite the lack of playing time, Sands still believes NYCFC was a good place for him to develop and it helped him with his adjustment to the professional game.
“New York City is a great club with great competitive players,” Scally said. “They just beat New England, who are in first. All the players there are really good and I think a lot of them could even have good careers in Europe. That really helped me a lot. We also had a really good right back in Anton Tinnerholm who really helped me excel my game becuase he was one of the best last year, I believe, in MLS. To learn from and and play alongside him every game was something that really helped my game. We just had a really good team so all these guys were able to help me get to the level I am at right now.”
After he turned 18 on New Year's Eve, Scally made the move to Germany and it has forced him to grow up immediately – living abroad, immersed in different culture while learning German. His ability to adapt, however, has taken his family and friends by surprise.
“When I first came here, everything was shut down. You couldn't get integrated with the German culture or anything,” Scally said. “You couldn't really find a routine. … That was definitely difficult. It matured me a lot because I came here kid, goofy, like a normal high-school kid. Then, I had to grow up fast. I think my mom even said when she came here to visit, she was like: 'you do you own laundry now.' I was like, I have to [laughs].”
He also has help in Germany from familiar faces. Borussia Dortmund and U.S. national team midfielder Gio Reyna has been a longtime friend of Scally's. Both came up in the NYCFC system, grew up in the New York area, and were teammates on the U.S. U-17 team. Now they occasionally can see each other as the teams are separated by a little over 100 kilometers.
“We [recently] drove out to a good Chinese restaurant in Dusseldorf and then we hung out,” Scally said. “He loves candy, he loves sweets -- I am not even kidding. I didn't even know this candy store was in Dusseldorf because when my family was here, we would walk the same street every time -- and I would know if there was a candy store. But we're both on a scooter like two little kids. He stops. I ask what he's doing, and he's like there's a candy store right here. So we go in and he gets a whole bag of candy. ... it was really funny.”
Scally’s rise also begs the question about when he will don the Stars and Stripes jersey again and perhaps be reunited with Reyna. The U.S. national team depth chart is deep at right back, but far from settled. Sergino Dest is the starter but after that, there are questions. DeAndre Yedlin has lost his starting spot at Galatasary, Reggie Cannon is in a murky club situation after his transfer to Fulham fell apart prior to the deadline and Boavista’s new right back has impressed. Bryan Reynolds will likely not play regularly at Roma until potentially goes on loan in January and Julian Araujo is still not committed to the United States.
Scally, like Reynolds, offers the ability to cover at left back as well but with Scally poised to start a run of games in the Bundesliga for a big club, he can build a case for a call-up in the months ahead.
Now it will just be about playing well and learning. If he does that, everything could potentially fall into place.