Joe Scally, when he was with NYCFC, battles Inter Miami CF’s Matias Pellegrini for the ball last year. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
It’s all about speed.
Not necessarily about foot speed all the time, but that is vital.
Many times, Joe Scally’s success on the field is about his speed of thought, says Frank Schmidt.
Schmidt should know. The former Sachem High School boys soccer coach was the Lake Grove, N.Y. native’s trainer when he played as an 11-year-old on the Sachem Destroyers.
Today, the 18-year-old defender has established himself as a regular on Borussia Moenchangladbach in the Bundesliga and has been called into his first U.S. men’s national team camp for the November World Cup qualifying window.
“His brain works at a different pace. His brain is going at 120 miles an hour,” Schmidt said in a recent interview. “He’s playing at 30-40 miles per hour. He’s not rushing, but his brain is working a lot faster than the average player.”
Scally joined Borussia last December after a transfer from New York City FC but did not play in a Bundesliga match until August. Let’s face it, the speed of play in Europe in general and in Germany, in particular, is greater than in the United States.
Several months ago, Schmidt asked Scally what was the difference between here and there, and the Long Island native replied, “I miss things.”
Because of the speed of play.
It took a while, but once Scally got up to speed, he hasn’t missed many things. In fact, he has become an impact player, regardless of whether he played as a left or right fullback or as a wingback for Borussia. His ascension has been on the rise quickly as Scally was named the club’s player of the month for August and scored his first Bundesliga goal in September. He has played every minute of every match since them, the greatest compliment a coach can give a player.
“I remember always hearing that, years and decades ago, our best soccer athletes who went over to Europe and they said, ‘Yeah, the game is so much faster.’ ” Schmidt said. “All the good ones said it took at least six months to catch up to the game.”
Scally has been a quick study.
“He’s a fast learner, an advanced placement, AP type of kid,” said Schmidt, who forced a successful 31-year high school coaching career.
When he performed with the Destroyers in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, Scally was a forward or an attacking midfielder. He has been moved back into a defensive role and has taken that on quite quickly.
Jake Landau of FIFAmerica, said this about Scally on his Scouting Report on the YouTube Channel:
“There are things that I see with Joe Scally that are so technically sound in both defensive and offensive areas that he has such a stable foundation to improve on. Now sometimes with an eye test watching a defender, there may not be flair or pizzazz the hooks you right away when you watch this and go deeper on what those things are, that he already does so well at only 18 years old. I mean, I’m not speaking in hyperbole that Joe Scally could be our best fullback in two years’ time. And that’s considering Dest and Jedi as well.”
Landau was referring to outside fullback Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson.
Scally has caught on as a defender and then some. Schmidt noted that the 5-10 fullback takes short, choppy steps when marking a player, which has allowed him the flexibility to move quickly in another direction when his opponent makes a move.
“It’s how he chops the steps,” he said. “That’s a big thing for a soccer player to have to have choppy steps to take those little tiny steps, like a 6-10 basketball player, so how they can change direction. They can’t afford to take long strides. You can’t take a long stride and then ask your body to go a different direction. You’ve got to be able to take little choppy steps and that allows you to change direction and react to a different movement by an opponent. Joe has that. He’s got that genetic makeup. Then you combine that with that mental capacity he has to see and read the game, it is just it is so exciting to watch. That is a beautiful thing to watch.”
Scally hasn’t sweat the details. He has embraced them.
“It’s all the little things that he does,” Schmidt said. “I get that. That’s the difference I guess between those who want to be at the highest level and those who are doing all the little things.”
When he trained Scally seven years ago, Schmidt admitted he didn’t think the youngster would play for the national team someday.
“To be honest, I didn’t think that way,” he said. “I just saw at that young age 11-12, he was just doing things that were so different than any other kid I’ve ever seen.”
Translated: Scally was unpredictable.
“It was like he did what he saw the situation called for,” he said.
Many players will keep on trying to play to their stronger side, many times with failure.
Schmidt then got into the mind of a player. “That’s not my favorite side. That’s not my favorite thing to do,” he said. “It’s like my right leg is stronger than my left leg. So let me go to my right so I can serve the ball with my right. No, they already have three defenders outside.”
Scally thought differently.
“There’s only one defender on the left,” Schmidt said. “You have to go that way.”
And that’s what Scally did.
“You wouldn’t have to tell him that,” he said. “You can’t tell a player during the game to do that. He just read things. He just did things and get all these little things with this body.”
Scally also had the ability to pick up things and execute kicks and set piece plays quickly.
Schmidt remembered when the defender scored on his first try.
“That’s kind of like what I’ve seen with very unique players,” he said. The first time you do something different, they execute like, ‘Okay, we don’t have to practice this. He knows what to do.’ ”
When he learned Thursday that Scally was named to the U.S. squad, Schmidt said “probably just a big smile came across my face.”
“I tried to tell myself okay, if it doesn’t happen this time, it will happen soon,” he said. “It’ll happen somewhere down the road. You keep hearing about [U.S. head coach Gregg] Berhalter. He was carrying young guys but it’s like how young did he want to go, and they’re still trying to establish their ticket to Qatar. ‘So do I do I want to bring in a real rookie at this point having brought in so many players to want to keep going this way?’ I didn’t know what was going to be behind this decision-making process.”
On Sept. 29, Berhalter explained to Scally how close he was to making the team, although he was not named for the October window.
“He’s a guy that I’m that we’re excited about. He has been playing in the Bundesliga as a wingback, sometimes a fullback and doing a decent job. But most impressive is that his age and that he’s able to compete at that level,” he said
“So, I think right he’s going to be a key contributor to what we do in the future. What we’re talking about now is some guys that have been through before. And if you look at our fullbacks, those are guys on the roster know what Concacaf is about. We thought that was important for this window. But we look forward to get Joe integrated.”
Last Thursday, Berhalter explained why Scally was one of the players he called into camp.
“If you look at what’s changed from month to month, he’s played in another five Bundesliga games, a Cup game,” he said. “They beat Bayern Munich, 5-0. He had an assist the other day. This is what we’re looking at. How is the player performing?
“When we see him going against [Leroy] Sane or Alfonso Davies on the side and he’s being tested. He’s standing up to these tests. For us, it was just gathering enough information. He’s a young player, we want to see him performing consistently at a high level.”
On his first day of training, Scally already has impressed teammates.
“It’s a great opportunity for Joe to come in and stake his claim and see what he can do to get into the team,” Aaronson said during a Monday afternoon Zoom media press conference. “From what I’ve seen so far. I mean, he seems like an unbelievable player. Of course, I watch the Bundesliga games of him. He looks really good.”
Whether he plays against Mexico in Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Cincinnati or in Jamaica on Nov. 16, it remains to be seen.
Oh, and one last thing: Schmidt said Scally is a better person than a player.
“I can’t express it enough,” he said. “I am so happy for him. I cannot find the words to describe the quality person he is. As competitive as he is on the field as successful as he is on the field, … he’s even better. I’m tearing up right now telling you this kid is down to earth. People just want to be around him. He is so he’s got this great self deprecating sense of humor. So, to see a kid like that succeed.”
Schmidt’s voice tailed off.
“When you see an exceptional athlete, but he’s a jerk at heart, it’s kind of hard to like someone like that,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to root for a jerk when he’s got all these athletic gifts. When a kid with athletic gifts has that personality, oh my God, it doesn’t get better than that. Life is complete. He’s got it.”
But Joe Scally already has proven that he is not an ordinary Joe.