What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Joe Scally
5:09 PM EDT on November 5, 2021
Welcome to What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal, a regular series in which Defector selects a name from the myriad number of exciting young American soccer men playing in Europe and answers the question: What is this USMNT guy’s deal?
As a person who runs a weekly column with a running joke that's like Ha ha ha the United States has so many great right backs ha ha ha, I felt like a real dumbass watching Shaq Moore trot out against Panama and spend his time losing the ball, passing backwards, and allowing action on his flank. How much does it really matter that there are nearly one dozen credible right-back options in the USMNT player pool if the second-choice player is an egg-layer? It is clear that Sergiño Dest is a bucket-getter par excellence, though it is equally clear that the demands of qualifying are too much to rely on any one player to hold the line every game. Even if Moore will have better games and one clunker isn't a meaningful indictment of the position group, this should be a position of strength. Outside of Dest, it hasn't been.
The USMNT has announced its roster for November's qualification showdown with Mexico, and the team will line up against its bitter rival without Dest, who is currently injured. DeAndre Yedlin has been the primary backup, and he'll certainly see minutes this window. Boavista right back Reggie Cannon has returned to the team too, though I hope he stays glued to the bench so the roster's lone uncapped player can be allowed to shine. I hope it will finally be Joe Scally time.
Who Does He Play For?
Like former USMNT full back Fabian Johnson, Scally plays for Borussia Mönchengladbach. He also plays for them pretty much all the time; he has started every single Bundesliga game this season for Die Fohlen. Left back Ramy Bensebaini missed the start of the season with an injury, which meant Scally had to step up and start Mönchengladbach's first game of the season on his weaker side. Terrifying, for a number of reasons, yes, but consider: The game was also against Bayern Munich. What's more, the start was only the second top-flight club start of the 18-year-old Scally's career. In spite of those stacked odds, the American held his own against the likes of Leroy Sané and Robert Lewandowski, and his team earned a draw. That's as fiery a baptism a young player in Germany can possibly have, and it's no surprise that he's entrenched himself in the starting XI after that name-making performance.
Scally has primarily played on his more natural right side this season, getting most of his minutes as a right wing back and thriving. Mönchengladbach is in the hunt for the Champions League places and they have one of the best defenses in the league, all of which is an immense credit to Scally. So far he has one goal and one assist, and he played a part in his team's 5–0 beatdown of Bayern in the German Cup. Things have gone about as well as anyone could've imagined. It's hard to hyperbolize here. Mönchengladbach's sporting director said he's been the team's best player. Fans voted him the club's player of the month in August. The guy has been killing it.
The most impressive single aspect of Scally's breakout season is that he'd never played anywhere close to a Bundesliga level before in his career. The 18-year-old came to Germany with only four MLS appearances underneath his belt. His path to the top has been about as direct as they come. He excelled as a youngster with the USYNT and NYCFC's academy, and once NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna (father of USMNT stud and Scally's best friend Gio Reyna) moved Scally from midfield to right back, he stood out as a legit future prospect. Mönchengladbach agreed to sign Scally when he was 16, after logging but a few minutes in a cup match for the NYCFC first team. The Germans scouted him early, made their decision with relatively little data, waited two years (which Scally spent mostly injured) for him to move to Europe, then immediately plugged him in and reaped the benefits. It's all been pretty simple, and his ascension is one of the strongest indicators of how aggressively MLS is being scouted nowadays.
The Weston McKennie Mamma Mia Test refers to the following foolproof heuristic for determining whether or not a U.S. player is actually good or just good by our rosy American standards: Do fans tweet lovingly about them in their local language?
(This next one doesn't qualify through the explicit standards of the WMMMT, but it seems like a nice bonus to toss in; getting put into the moronic soccer meme template feels vaguely meaningful.)
How Does He Play?
Scally can do it all. You can clearly see his past as a midfielder when you watch him play. He's calm with the ball, has a good first touch, and moves the ball forward naturally. It is honestly somewhat difficult to write this section for Scally, since he doesn't have any discernible or serious weaknesses. Even Dest, who is a considerably bigger talent, is a somewhat misshapen player who can be world-class but has a few discrete pieces of his game in need of polish. Even after playing just 10 games, Scally's level of refinement is undeniable.
We should start with his skill on the ball, as that's what's most enticing about Scally as a prospect. He can dribble better than most Bundesliga full backs already, and Mönchengladbach's aggressive, quick style lets him put that to use often. He won't scream past defenders with Destian bursts of speed, but he can cleverly move the ball into dangerous areas from his flank. He's shown himself to be a competent passer and crosser, though his ceiling is unclear. Can he be a legitimate threat every time he's on the ball, or will he stall out as a good passer for a defender? Though full backs rarely find themselves in front of goal, Scally has scored once this year, on a cool solo run-and-gun effort.
When actually defending, Scally is not tremendously overpowering, though he doesn't get pushed around. I don't put much stock in soccer stats, though they say he's a top-tier defender and duel-winner. The eye test confirms this, as he's always wrestling out there. He could stand to refine his technique a bit, even if he has most of the basics covered. At the risk of being tautological, Scally wouldn't have played 891 out of a possible 900 minutes if he wasn't a good defender.
The Wonderteen Index is a holistic, objective metric that analyzes a player’s full array of skills and talents, distilling it all into a single number that corresponds to their ultimate potential and the likelihood that they will assume the title of Wonderteen.
Scally plays an unglamorous supporting role, though he is a teenager and could have a breakout debut against Mexico, so we're hedging and administering a score of 3 out of 4.
When assessing Scally's potential, we have to remember that he is playing like one of the steadiest full backs in the Bundesliga right now as an 18-year-old. Even if this is his floor, he's good enough to earn minutes for a competitive first-division club and fit a variety of systems. After all, no matter the formation and no matter how many players are technically in a defensive setup, no coach will ever willingly leave their wings exposed. Even a superior player like Dest is not as obviously versatile as Scally. This will help his career prospects, and while I would like to say he will develop into a Champions League-caliber right back, he hasn't played enough to really feel confident about his chances of getting there. However, he is 18 and already crushing it, so we must also assume he will get better. At the very least, Mönchengladbach has a proven, capable squad that is good enough that Scally will get to spend his time actually attacking the goal and not putting out fires all the time like, say, poor Josh Sargent.
Can He Play Right Back?
The U.S.’s European corps is absolutely silly with right backs, enough to stock a full XI. And so it is important to determine whether or not the USMNT guy of the week can play the position.
Joe Scally can play at left back. Joe Scally also often plays right wing back. If we were to stop here, we would have to conclude that he can probably play right back, as the position is pretty similar to those listed above. However, Joe Scally spends most of his time on the right side of the Mönchengladbach defense. That position is colloquially defined as the right back, so, yes, duh.
Show To Me A Cool Highlight
Proof of crossing prowess:
How Does He Fit In With The U.S. Team?
I hope Scally ascends and takes over as the permanent right back backup. As much as DeAndre Yedlin has given the program, Scally beats him in every area except top-end speed.
One interesting thing to ponder is whether he could switch positions once again and provide meaningful cover for Tyler Adams. Scally, after all, did begin his soccer career as a midfielder, and though he's made a name for himself as a full back, he's only been a senior player for one season. The USMNT also doesn't have a backup for Adams who doesn't lose the ball all the time and personally mangle games, and Scally's preferred position is covered by Dest. There's probably a larger physical toll to playing defensive midfielder than Scally can pay, especially in CONCACAF, though I think he's skilled enough for the position. Can he develop enough as a passer to make this work? That's a tough ask, but as I've said a couple hundred times in this blog, he's still only 18.
How Close Is He To The Hypothetical Best XI?
As long as Sergiño Dest is healthy, Scally will almost certainly not start in his preferred position. However, his versatility gives him a huge leg up on his competition within the full back corps, so I could absolutely see him getting playing time as a kind of floating Robinson/Dest backup when they both start, and starting games when one needs to sit. It also wouldn't shock me to see Dest playing higher up the pitch as a winger, as he has for Barcelona of late, against certain opposition, at which case Scally could slide in well at full back. Players who can do so much and so well tend to find themselves on the field.