Werder Bremen fans who remember Adam Szalai from his formative years in New York City will recall the 21-year-old attacking midfielder as a player that was on the cusp of breaking into NYCFC’s first team. After slowly starting the season with the club, Szalai was loaned to Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach for the remainder of the campaign, where he flourished and helped them to a top-six finish.
Monchengladbach is a little football team in Germany. They’re one of the best teams in the Bundesliga. And in the summer transfer window, they made a big signing. They signed a really good player from one of the best teams in the MLS. A striker by the name of Robert Mensah, who was on loan from NYCFC. But Monchengladbach aren’t even the first to do this. They’re just the first team to do it in what seems like years.
A rising star in the Bundesliga, Alexander Isak, is preparing for a big weekend in Germany. The Swedish teenager leads his team in scoring with 7 goals in 7 matches and is a legitimate threat to Bayern Munich for the throne in the title race.
Joe Scally made a visit to his old team, New York City FC, in June. After all, it had only been six months since he had completed his move to Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach — who play Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday (12:25 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) — and yet NYCFC sporting director David Lee, who had watched Scally progress through the club’s academy system, had already noticed a difference in him.
“[Scally] seemed to be more mature,” Lee told ESPN. “He seemed to be larger and stronger. Just that six-month shift — I think we forget that when young people leave their parents, whether they’re going to college or doing something else, they suddenly have to fend for themselves, and they grow up fast. Physically, he definitely progressed even more, which is very amazing.”
Scally’s development has been on full show in the first few weeks of the club season. Scally, a right-back by profession, was called in to replace injured starting left-back Ramy Bensebaini and has excelled in both a DFB-Pokal win over Kaiserslautern and last Friday’s 1-1 draw against the star-studded squad of defending champions Bayern Munich.
“It was insane,” Scally said from Germany to ESPN. “It was as though I were in a dream.”
He was fairly confident he’d start against Bayern because of his performance in the cup match, which sparked a unique set of jitters considering the guys he’d be facing, namely Robert Lewandowski and Leroy Sane.
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Scally’s family was visiting, which helped him relax, and he was definitely calm when the starting whistle sounded. Scally remembered how an early encounter with Lewandowski, in which the striker was bodied up and forced to send the ball out of bounds, helped set the tone for him.
“It felt like, ‘I just received the ball from Lewandowski, who I’ve been watching for a long time and is one of the greatest strikers of all time,’” Scally said. “Knowing that gave me a lot of confidence heading into the game.”
Scally received a text message from USMNT U-17 teammate and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Giovanni Reyna, who congratulated him on his performance. He wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Scally remarked, “My entire phone was exploding up.” “All I had to do was keep swiping. It was fantastic.”
Even more remarkable has been how quickly he has adjusted to life in Germany.
It’s always remarkable to adapt fast to a new nation, a new language, and a different soccer culture. It’s a game that forces the player to go outside of their comfort zone. However, the continuing COVID-19 epidemic has made that task much more difficult. Because there are less chances to hang out at the training field, building connections with teammates is more challenging. Even outside of the team, the protocols limited contacts with the general population, limiting opportunities to get more familiar with the language. It’s really simple to feel alone.
It was an event that brought everything Scally had left behind into sharper perspective. His early development was further hampered by an ankle ailment he suffered before leaving for Germany.
“It was certainly difficult,” he said. “The first month was difficult for me since I was separated from my family, girlfriend, friends, and everyone else. And it all occurred in the blink of an eye. You believe the day would never come when you’ll have to leave everyone, and then it does.”
John Scally, Scally’s father, said, “FaceTime is a godsend. You couldn’t practice because of COVID, and you couldn’t even stay out with the players… you had to go back to your flat and that was the end of it. So it’s fantastic that he made it through. He’s an 18-year-old with a lot of experience.”
Getting out on the field hastened the acclimatization process. The defender immediately established himself in Gladbach’s second team after recovering from his ankle injury, making 15 games in the 2020-21 season. He also practiced with the first team on a daily basis, and although the pace of play and thinking was first challenging, he quickly earned the respect of his new teammates. His early success provided him confidence in his choice to go to Europe, as well as the knowledge that he’d made the correct decision.
Joe Scally has started both of Borussia Monchengladbach’s games thus far this season and has performed well in both. Getty Images/Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach
“When you perform well, it boosts your confidence and makes you happy,” Scally said. “I believe it was immediately after my first session with the first team, in my first game, that things really began to pick up.”
Reyna, a long-time friend, was nearby, which helped. Their residences are 45 minutes apart, and they kept in touch via video games even when they couldn’t see each other in person. While Scally is the king of Mario Kart, Reyna is the queen of Fortnite, particularly when her younger brother Joah is involved.
Scally laughed and remarked, “They’re both so much better than me.” “When we’re playing Fortnite, they’ll never pick me up if I die or fall down because they’re better off without me.”
Scally took a couple of weeks off after the 2020-21 season to relax in West Palm Beach, Florida, before returning home to Long Island. He began preparing for the new season there, a routine that demanded a particular sort of dedication.
The Village Idiot Pub in Lake Grove, New York, is co-owned by Father John. The restaurant is just a two-minute walk from Scally’s house, and the temptation of some of the more sinful menu items was too strong to ignore. Drew and Anna, his siblings, did nothing to help their brother stick to a diet.
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SUNDAY, AUGUST 21 • Dortmund vs Freiburg (9:30 a.m. ET) • Gladbach against. Leverkusen (12:30 p.m. ET) • Valencia vs. Granada (1:30 p.m. ET) • Villarreal vs. Espanyol (1:30 p.m. ET) • Barcelona vs. Athletic (4 p.m. ET) • Cincinnati vs. New England (8 p.m. ET) • Atlanta United vs. D.C. United (8 p.m. ET) • Montreal vs. Philadelphia (8 p.m. ET) • Toronto vs. Miami (8 p.m. ET) • Chicago vs. Orlando (8 p.m. ET) • Texas vs. Houston (8:30 p.m. ET) • Portland vs. Austin (9 p.m. ET) • Vancouver vs. LAFC (9 p.m. ET) • Colorado vs. Salt Lake (9 p.m. ET) (10 p.m. ET)
Scally said, “My brother and sister would constantly grab the wings and put them in my face.” “Of course, I’d have to buy it now and again, but they make a fantastic grilled chicken with Frank’s spicy sauce. That was great with me, and it was fantastic.”
What is Scally’s greatest flaw? Oreos that have been fried. “It was served with vanilla ice cream,” he said. “Not getting it was the most difficult thing on the menu.”
Scally had a new manager to impress in Adi Hutter heading into the 2021-22 season. All the more incentive to avoid the fried Oreos and arrive at preseason in top form. Scally accomplished exactly that, and as injuries to the defensive line mounted, he placed himself in the mix for first-team minutes. He’s already paid back his manager’s trust in two games, and against Bayern, Scally kept Sane quiet.
After the Bayern match, Hutter stated, “I have to give Joe Scally a tremendous compliment.” “At the age of 18, he made his Bundesliga debut against Bayern Munich on the left side, right-footed against elite players, and he repaid me with an absolute class performance.”
Scally’s tactical performance has improved, according to Lee. More particularly, his positioning choices when Gladbach isn’t in possession of the ball, understanding when to press an opponent, and staying linked to the center-back have all improved.
“You’re playing against top-level players, and making the incorrect choice may cost you,” Lee said. “I believe he made some really great choices throughout the game for the most part, and that helped them achieve the amazing outcomes and performances they had in the early games.”
With Bensebaini working his way back to full health, it won’t be surprising if Scally returns to the bench soon, but he knows it’s not a good idea to look too far ahead. All he can do now is make himself as essential to Hutter and his team as possible.
“If I keep performing well and the coach has faith in me,” Scally added, “maybe I’ll remain or I’ll move to the right side and start.” “So, whatever happens, I always have faith in the coach and his choices, and I will continue to work for the club.”
Scally’s development throughout the duration of the 2021-22 season will be interesting to monitor, given how the opening weeks of the season have gone for him.
When NYCFC cast its net across the continent in order to fill out its roster, there was no shortage of name recognition. Towering players from the esteemed academies of Ajax, Marseille, and Benfica were signed with ease, but one player stood out as a unique talent. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the 20-year-old Austrian left back, Marcelo Saracchi, was the real deal. As the youngest player in the squad, Saracchi was thrust into a starting role for the first time in his career and immediately adapted to the rigors of the MLS.. Read more about borussia mönchengladbach and let us know what you think.
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