By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Writer
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The newest player on the U.S. national team feels like he fits right in.
While former high school classmates are getting ready for Thanksgiving break of their college freshman semesters, 18-year-old defender Joe Scally could make his debut as a reserve in Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier at Jamaica. To get ready, he spoke before training camp with midfielder Gianluca Busio, a pal from the 2019 U.S. Under-17 team.
“He was like: ‘Yeah, everyone’s young. Everyone has the same things that you talk about. You don’t have an older guy who has kids,’” Scally said Monday. “You have a lot of similar traits.”
Scally’s rise from Sachem North High School in Lake Grove, New York, has been meteoric. His mom, the former Margaret Peragine, played for the Long Island Junior Soccer League’s Sachem Tomahawks, winner of the 1987 Patricia Louise Masotto Cup as girls-under-16 national champions.
Joe signed with Major League Soccer’s New York City team at age 15 in March 2018, the second-youngest American soccer pro after Freddy Adu with D.C. United at 14 in 2004.
Scally debuted that June 6 in a U.S. Open Cup match and NYC announced in November 2019 that Scally would be sold to Germany’s Borussia Mönchengladbach after the 2020 season, as soon at he turned 18. He played just 71 minutes over five regular and postseason matches in 2020 — just one of them a start.
On Jan. 3, 2020, three days after his 18th birthday, he headed to Germany for a new life and new tasks, such as doing his own laundry.
“Due to COVID restrictions, we weren’t able to go with him,” his mom said. “Our first trip to see him was in March of 2021. We were all impressed on how well he was doing, with learning a new culture, meeting new players as well as trying to learn a new language.”
A right-footed player, Scally started at left back in Gladbach’s German Cup opener at Kaiserslautern on Aug. 9 due to Ramy Bensebaini’s thigh injury, and he made his Bundesliga debut four days later — against star-filled Bayern Munich, winner of six European titles and 31 German league championships.
“Definitely felt like a little kid just out on an island by myself, very nervous, especially because it was against Bayern Munich,” Scally said.
Scally so impressed Adi Hütter that when Bensebaini returned, the coach moved the American to right back. Scally, who doesn’t turn 19 until Dec. 31, has started all 10 Bundesliga games for Mönchengladbach and two German Cup games, including a 5-0 rout of Bayern Munich, the most goals against the Bavarians in nine years.
“This never happens for a big club like them, the best in the world,” Scally said. “Everyone was just so full of confidence and just wanted to play that next game ready, just because you beat Bayern 5-0, you want to see what you could do to the next opponent.”
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter called Scally about 15 minutes before announcing his roster for the second set of qualifiers on Sept. 29 to let Scally know “he was really close.”
“Even to hear that I was up for nomination gave me so much confidence going into the next week of training, next game, I think was against Wolfsburg when I scored,” Scally said.
A few weeks later, Berhalter’s name popped up on Scally’s mobile phone again, this time with the invitation to report to Cincinnati for the third set of qualifiers.
New players are integrated slowly. Scally didn’t dress for Friday’s 2-0 win over Mexico and he won’t start against the Reggae Boyz. He is in line to join Sergiño Dest, who can play on both sides, right back DeAndre Yedlin and left back Antonee Robinson in an outside defender pool that also includes Reggie Cannon on the right and Sam Vines on the left.
“Most impressive is his age and that he is able to compete at that level,” Berhalter said. “I think he’s going to be a key contributor to what we do in the future.”
With playing time, Scally has acquired confidence.
“You gain the trust of the players on your team, so now it just feels like you’re a regular and this is what you do and you just need to keep performing,” he said. “I definitely think my speed of play and my defensive positioning has improved a lot because these are little things that you need to do to keep playing every week.”
A new-look U.S. pool this fall includes forward Ricardo Pepi, midfielder Gio Reyna, defender George Bello, Busio and Scally, teammates on the Under-17 team just two years earlier.
“They’re all good players, but you couldn’t expect, and it wouldn’t have been fair to expect that two years later, three years later, they’re all at the senior national teams,” said Raphaël Wicky, their Under-17 coach.
Scally talks with Reyna nearly every day.
“Everyone’s so close in age, so everyone has similar traits and definitely everyone is like a family,” Scally said. “We’re all from the U.S. We all know each other somehow some way, whether we play in the same league and yeah, everyone coming into the U.S. team, it’s like a brotherhood and everyone takes you under your wing when you’re a new guy.”
Last summer, Scally got to go home before returning to preseason. He was able to partake in normal teenage activities, such as attending his high school graduation and prom parties.
“It was fun to feel like a kid again,” he said.
To Tim Weah, at 21 just the ninth-youngest player on this year’s roster, Scally resembles a veteran.
“Scally has a beard,” Weah said with a laugh.
For all the success now, Wicky had a note of caution.
“It’s very important that they keep keep working hard, that they don’t think, ‘I have made it,'” Wicky said. “You have to prove it day in and day out. Otherwise, another guy will take your position.”
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