Fresh from making his senior international bow for the USA, Lennard Maloney is now set to face the mighty Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga with a Heidenheim side who are holding their own in Germany’s top flight following the most dramatic of promotion pushes.
The first player in Heidenheim history to win a senior international cap, the Berlin-born Maloney, or Lenny to his teammates, is winning plenty of plaudits this term for his battling determination and will to win from defensive midfield. Indeed, the importance of FCH’s versatile No. 33 is represented by the fact that he presently leads the Bundesliga’s distance covered stat having clocked up an impressive 128.5 km, or just shy of 80 miles, in his 10 top-tier games of 2023/24.
All of that bite, enthusiasm and his added rallying energy will be much needed when Frank Schmidt’s side make the relatively short trip to the Allianz Arena on Saturday to take on Bayern’s attacking juggernaut, who are in record scoring mood under Thomas Tuchel.
"He's a team player who impresses with his emotion and passion,” United States coach Berhalter said of Maloney last month. “The way he spurs on his teammates and contests duels, he's a really committed and team-oriented player," the international tactician added, in quotes appearing on US Soccer Plus.
Watch: Maloney and Heidenheim were on-song against VfB Stuttgart last weekend
Prior to Maloney signing for the then second-tier Heidenheim in July 2022, the son of a German mother and a United States Air Force father came up through the ranks of Union Berlin, for whom he made his professional debut four years earlier. Stints at third-tier Chemnitzer and Borussia Dortmund – where he debuted in the Bundesliga – followed, but it was at Heidenheim where Maloney really took off following a free transfer to the club.
Coach Schmidt saw a player who – despite his imposing 6’ 2” frame that appeared more suited to central defence – could operate in midfield and drop into the back line when the team lost possession. Within his low-lying midfield role, ‘Lenny’ proved to be a thorn in the side of opposition attackers and he excelled at breaking up and frustrating forward thrusts.
He formed an integral part of the Heidenheim side that won promotion as Bundesliga 2 champions on the final day of last season, failing to appear in just one of his side’s second-tier games en-route to a maiden top-flight breakthrough.
“Of course, many people probably didn’t expect that of us, but I wouldn’t say that we’re where we are right now without purpose; we worked for it,” Maloney told USSoccerPlayers.com. In terms of his own role in Heidenheim’s promotion push, the USMNT international explained: “I know what I can do and what I’ve probably still got to improve on. I was never the kind of player who had the really big talent; working for it, that’s been my motto.”
And how the defensive midfielder and his club have been working in what has been a fascinating Bundesliga season so far. Maloney has been pretty much ever-present, playing 889 minutes in Heidenheim’s first ten Bundesliga games.
Tipped by some to be stuck in the relegation zone from the off, the Baden-Württemberg based team are currently holding their own in 13th place having picked up three wins and a draw. Maloney’s former side Union accounted for one of those victories while Schmidt’s team clipped the wings of the previously high-flying Stuttgart as recently as Matchday 10.
Watch: Maloney enjoyed victory against his former side Union earlier this season
Picking up a victory against Bayern this weekend would represent another career high for the USMNT’s latest debutant, who will – just like his teammates – have to be at his absolute best against the record champions. According to those within the United States set-up, Maloney has what it takes to frustrate any opponent.
“I think he’s got a real competitive streak,” the U.S. assistant coach B.J. Callaghan said. “He’s a guy who wants to be in and around the ball. I think there’s a physical presence to him in tackling and aerial duels and covering ground which I feel are attributes that we look for a lot of times in that central midfield role.”
Coach Berhalter agreed, adding: "First of all, [he has the] most distance covered in the Bundesliga as a central defensive midfielder. To me what really attracted the staff to him is how he plays the game, with a lot of emotion [and] a lot of passion.
“You see him clapping for his teammates, you see him going into tackles, a really committed and team-oriented player. We’re excited to have him."
Last season’s second-division champion is just as excited to now be lining out for the USA. The player – who previously featured for Germany at youth level - once said: “My heart beats more for the USA. I can't explain that; it's just a matter of the heart. It fills you with pride to perform for that country."
Maloney’s 25 senior minutes in the USMNT’s win against Ghana last month also filled everyone at Heidenheim with pride, including coach Schmidt, who - having been in charge of the club since 2007- is the longest serving manager in German football history.
“He deserves it as he has been performing well for a long time,” Schmidt said of Maloney’s international call-up. “[He’s] a player who competes between the lines and who ultimately has to provide defensive stability with the way he plays. With this presence, he is an absolute role model and very important for us."
Maloney and Heidenheim will be hoping to hear similar praise following their monumental weekend test against the mighty Bayern on Saturday, a game you can follow on bundesliga.com and the Bundesliga app from 15:30 CET or 10:30 ET.
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