Frank Schmidt on Joe Scally (above): “NYCFC was a good prep for him. He got to train with David [Villa] and high-level players. He is in a different ballpark [in Germany], different level of competition.”
By Michael Lewis
When he first saw Joe Scally as an 11-year-old a scant seven years ago, team trainer Frank Schmidt realized he was witnessing a player with special talents on the Sachem Destroyers.
At the time, he did not realize the Lake Grove, N.Y. native would wind up as an 18-year-old on Borussia Monchangladbach. Scally, who was transferred to the Bundesliga club by New York City FC in 2019, joined his new team this week.
“I’m so excited for him,” Schmidt said earlier this week. “I’m getting chills as you as you say that. It is unbelievable. … NYCFC was a good prep for him. He got to train with David [Villa] and high-level players. He is in a different ballpark [in Germany], different level of competition. It’s cut-throat from everything I read and see.”
Scally signed with Monchangladbach in a seven-figure deal Nov. 13, 2019. The agreement went into effect this Jan. 1.
Schmidt, who had a storied career coaching 31 years at Sachem High School, remembered those first sessions watching an 11-year-old Scally perform for training coach for the Long Island Junior Soccer League team. He wasn’t merely impressed. He was amazed at what an 11-year-old could accomplish.
“You watched and you kind of shook your head. Ah, I’ve never seen a kid that age,” Schmidt said. “He was like 11-12 years old. He’s doing things that other kids just didn’t do.”
Simple things on paper that went a long way on the soccer field.
“Everyone has a favorite side,” he said. “Ninety-five out of a 100 kids, they’re going to go with it and then they get the ball, they’re going to go to their strong side. They’re going to do everything in their power to fight going to the weak side. From the time he was a little kid, you did not know which way he was going to go. You didn’t know if he was going to go right or left. He was right footed, but he was not going to let that strength become a weakness. He developed moves to go to his left because that’s what the situation called for. I don’t have to tell him to do that. I don’t have to train [him] to do that. He was doing that naturally. That’s an athlete.”
Scally, who usually performed in an attacking role for the Destroyers, was versatile as well, being able to play forward, midfield or defense.
“He would go from striker to attacking mid. That was his position,” Schmidt said during a 2018 interview. “He was really more of a middie, but you tell a 12-year-old kid, we’re looking for a goal, we’d push him up. If we were getting pounded there for a while or it looked like we got a bit defensive, I didn’t hesitate to let him play in the back.”
Scally, who turned 18 Dec. 31, prepared for his Bundesliga sojourn by taking German in high school while earning his diploma. He earned National Junior Honor Society honors before he was home schooled because of his NYCFC commitments after signing with the Major League Soccer club in 2018.
“He did his prep work,” said Schmidt, who directed teams at Sachem High School and Sachem North H.S. from 1974-2005 as the fifth winningest boys soccer coach in Suffolk County history (345 victories). He was named Suffolk boys large school coach of the year three times (1997, 1998, 2000).
“I hope German is good enough. His great sense of humor can come out when he’s in Germany. He’s such a likable person, such a likable kid. I’m just hoping that somehow it comes through, shows through in Germany because he’s a kid who’s so easy to root for, just as for person. Then you add this level of talent he has, and you just shake your head and smile. It couldn’t happen to a nicer kid, a better person.”
Besides the teenager’s talent and performance, Schmidt was just as impressed with Scally’s attitude and maturity for an 11-year-old.
In a 2018 interview, Schmidt said that “If you would rank your players from one to 16, he was one. When I asked the kids to partner up, you know kids at their age they want to be with their best buddy. He would volunteer to partner up with the 15th and 16th kid. Clearly could not do the things he could do. If it was a passing drill, he was going to pass the ball every time perfectly. It was going to get to the other player and this other player wasn’t going to return it half the time. What other 11-year-old, 12-year-old kid is going to do that, willingly? There was something about him. i don’t know if it was a level of sensitivity, or maturity. He would do things like that.”
And there was one other thing about Scally.
“The thing that stands out just about him whether it was a game or practice,” Schmidt said. “He had this unrelenting smile. I mean he’s got he’s got a great smile. It’s there when he’s playing. Eis eyes are focused. He’s intense. He comes off the field. He’s got this incredible smile, whatever whatever he’s doing. i don’t know if you call it a positive attitude or is it’s just him.”
It seemed inevitable that bigger and greater things were destined for the 5-10 Scally.
In 2018, Scally signed with NYCFC. Several weeks later, he made his pro debut, coming on for David Villa in a 4-0 loss to the Red Bulls in a 4-0 defeat in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The defender didn’t get much playing time with the MLS side, making only four appearances and one start for a total of 70 minutes.
“Would it have helped him? Yeah, most definitely,” Schmidt said recently. “But it’s hard to critique a coach’s decision. I’m not there are every training session or game and what the general manager is expecting from the players or what the players are demanding. I’m just grateful that Joe at least trained in that type of environment.
“When he first got there at age 14, the 14-year-old training session was going on at the same time as the as the pro team, and they were on the same field and they were doing the exact same training. Sometimes they were brought together to play with and against each other. I remember clips Margaret [Scally’ mother] shared with me … going against David [Villa]. Ok, at age 14, 15, you’re being matched up against this world class player. What a great situation.
“You’re picking up things you don’t even realize, like, ‘Oh yeah I’ve got to write this down.’ It’s almost like you’re being force fed this. It’s sinking in, slowly but surely.”
Scally’s time in Germany certainly will be a learning experience and half where soccer – football – is the No. 1 sport. He will be immersed in sport 24/7.
“You’re the product of your environment. In the American culture, soccer is an important sport, but there is this other sport called football, basketball hockey, baseball. It’s just a different environment for our kids here, although soccer has changed quite a bit. We’ve become a little bit more of a soccer culture. Its’ not like Germany. They play hockey and they play some basketball. It’s football, European football. This is No. 1.”
Schmidt was hopeful that Scally with not only survive but thrive in Germany.
“I can’t predict how he’ll do,” he said. “He’s got a foundation to do something special. I’m hoping. This is a great age to go over there. Maybe, maybe this is the path to getting onto to the national team. I’m not saying this year or the following year. But certainly it’s going to enhance his opportunity down the road.”
Scally’s former NYCFC Academy teammate, Gio Reyna, is 18-years-old, is a regular with Borussia Dortmund and made his U.S. men’s national team debut in a scoreless draw at Wales Nov. 12 and scored is first goal for the USA in the rout of Panama four days later.
And, many German teams are giving teenagers an opportunity to show the world how well they can play.
When he last spoke to and texted with Scally about a month ago, Schmidt gave his former player some sage advice.
“I told him, ‘Be prepared for to be as the best you can for the competition. It’s not anything you’ve seen before. People are going to try and break you, Joe. You just got to be yourself. Just be the same mentally strong kid you’ve always been.’
“I don’t think he’ll break. As long as he’s got the patience, just to put the time in, realize the competition is cut-throat even among your teammates. You’re not the first 18-year-old kid here show up on our roster. There’s going be other 16-, 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds hungry, competitive, talented players.
“He’s not the type to pack it in. He knows how to enjoy life. He’s got this great smile. He’s not a show-off, He’s got a ton of friends. People are just drawn to him. He’s such a down to earth, good kid; a pretty modest kid. I think all those characteristics are just going to come through. He does love competition. He didn’t like to lose. Hopefully, with his physical talent, it will come to fruition.”
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