Joe Scally has received his first call-up for the USMNT by Gregg Berhalter for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Jamaica in November, and it’s a thoroughly deserved nomination for the Borussia Mönchengladbach full-back.
Scally, 18, is the seventh member of the USA’s 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup squad to earn a call-up to the USMNT, but is yet to feature at a more senior level. It’s perhaps been on the cards after he became the second-youngest professional soccer player in the US – after Freddy Adu – when he signed a contract at 15.
The New York State native would only make seven senior appearances for boyhood club New York City FC before his January 2020 move to Gladbach the moment he turned 18. He spent his first half season in Germany with the club’s reserves, playing 15 times in the fourth tier as he settled into a different country and type of football.
The plan at Borussia was probably to let him keep acclimatising and adapting at that lower level for a while longer, but injuries in the first team saw him presented with opportunities under new coach Adi Hütter. And the boy has taken them.
Watch: Scally – Gladbach’s shooting US star
After making his competitive in the DFB Cup first round, Scally retained his place in the starting line-up for the Bundesliga season’s curtain raiser at home to Bayern Munich - which the Foals drew 1-1 - playing in the relatively unusual position of left-back in the absence of Ramy Bensebaini. And it set the tone for what has become a seriously impressive campaign.
Scally has started all 13 games for the Foals in all competitions, which is a feat only matched by centre-back Nico Elvedi among outfield players. The American has been on the left of the starting XI four times and over on his most accustomed right flank nine times following an injury to Stefan Lainer. But he’s also shown tactical versatility, being used as a traditional full-back as well as a more advanced wing-back.
“My main thing is my athleticism,” he told bundesliga.com. “I’m a very fast, strong, physical player who likes to get up and down the field.
“I love getting into one-on-one duels and headers in the air. And I love to play on the ground and keep possession."
We have seen all of that from him this term.
Prior to Matchday 11, he had covered the fifth most distance of anyone in the league. Only Bochum’s Danilo Soares had won more duels among full-backs than Scally, while his overall success rate is over half.
He stepped things up even more in the last month and won 57 per cent of his duels. He was contesting 26 per 90 minutes in October, which is three more than his season average and makes his increased success even more impressive.
Solid defensive displays are just one part of a full-back’s game nowadays, and Scally has also impressed in the attacking third. Ahead of Berhalter’s squad announcement, only Willi Orban, Marc-Oliver Kempf (both 14) and Niko Gießelmann (12) had had more shots in the league this season among defenders than the Gladbach man (11).
One of those saw him become the 33rd different American to claim a Bundesliga goal, when he won a header on the halfway line against Wolfsburg before running clear and slotting home.
Watch: Highlights of Scally’s first goal in Gladbach’s win at Wolfsburg
“Yann [Sommer] gave me the ball over the top and I just headed it,” the New York native told explained after the final whistle. “I didn’t even realise that no one was there and just ran on to it. I cannot believe it even went in. It was amazing!
“I mean, I just want to keep scoring now after feeling that. With everyone jumping on me, I just want to do it again. It was unbelievable!”
That feeling will doubtless come again, but he’s not just about putting the goals away. The teenager ended October now with a Bundesliga assist to his name, crossing from the right for Alassane Plea to head in against Bochum.
Om average, Scally was directly involved in over two shots per game over the first 10 matchdays.
When news began swirling that he was in line for a first USMNT call-up, his club coach Hütter was hardly surprised and was confident his charge would deal with it just as well as he’s done everything else all season.
“When you’re a young player and doing what he’s doing, then that can only give him extra motivation, joy and confidence. I hope if it does come, he’ll take it in his stride as well,” the Austrian said of a potential nomination.
Watch: The 10 youngest American scorers in the Bundesliga
“He’s really been our player of the season so far,” sporting director Max Eberl enthused of his transfer coup. “He came from the USA in January as an 18-year-old, played with the reserves and got used to Germany a bit, and now he’s playing very well.”
So well that there really was little doubt he’d be called up very soon by Berhalter. He’s one of five full-backs named in the 25-man roster, with the other four all having prior caps, but the New Yorker earned his place with top performances at the highest club level.
"This was always a goal and a dream of mine,” Scally told bundesliga.com of his US call-up. "For it to happen so early in my career, there’s nothing more I could have asked for.”
Watch: Scally reflects on his maiden USMNT call-up
There aren’t many defenders out there who can claim they’ve stopped this current Bayern team and Robert Lewandowski from scoring. It wouldn’t even be a surprise to see Scally entrusted to start the big one against Mexico, given what we’ve seen from him with Gladbach.
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