Joe Scally is one of three young Americans to make the move from the U.S. to Europe this January. Brenden Aaronson went from the Philadelphia Union to FC Salzburg, his former teammate Mark McKenzie signed for Genk, and Scally completed his move to Borussia Monchengladbach having signed for them just over a year ago.
Scally packed five suitcases for his move from New York to the German state of North Rhine-Westfalia. He had everything covered from his XBox One to clothes for all seasons, along with various keepsakes, but he forgot one key item: pancake mix. Meanwhile, McKenzie is still trying to work out how to get his prodigious shoe collection (100 pairs and counting) over to Belgium.
United States youth international right-back Scally signed for Borussia Monchengladbach from New York City FC more than a year ago, in December 2019, but he had to wait until this month to join them following his 18th birthday on New Year’s Eve. On Jan. 3, he waited until the last possible moment to wave goodbye to his family and girlfriend at the departure gates of John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens and flew to Monchengladbach to complete the move that had been a year in the making.
Scally had never lived away from home before — he discovered early on that he could master eggs for breakfast, but struggled to put together lunch and dinner. His current specialty is sausage and pasta, cooked in an air fryer. “I throw in some sauce as well,” he tells ESPN.
For now, Scally is living on the Borussia Monchengladbach campus, which houses their stadium and training ground. They have four apartments in the on-site hotel for new players; from there, the club’s player liaison officers will help them find permanent accommodation. Scally plans to live alone, but find somewhere in the city center big enough to welcome his family and partner once COVID-19 lockdown regulations are eased.
An hour away across the Belgian border to the west, McKenzie is settling into life at Genk. He FaceTimed his family as he picked out his apartment and has picked up a car — a Mercedes C-Class. “It’s definitely a step up from my old Honda Accord,” McKenzie tells ESPN. He has a photographic memory, meaning he’s comfortable in navigating his new home city, but he still leans on his team manager Wout Maris for some essential local knowledge.
“I’m trying to understand the rules of driving out here and what those are, I think that’s been the biggest adjustment in trying to navigate the speed,” McKenzie says. “Wout was very explicit in stating they have speed sensors everywhere! Watch your speed so you don’t get hit with tickets.”
For Scally, the move to Gladbach was a long time coming. As he played out his final season at NYCFC with his transfer confirmed, his teammates called him “Monchengladbach” in training.
“My focus was on NYCFC, but at the back of my mind I had a little thing, like there was a bigger year coming,” Scally tells ESPN. His training plan was tweaked slightly to align it closer with Gladbach’s — he’d do more hang cleans in the gym. And as the months until his move ticked away, he kept in close contact with one of his best friends: Giovanni Reyna at Borussia Dortmund.
“I’ve been talking to him a lot about the living, the play, all this type of stuff,” Scally says. “Especially now as I’m only an hour away from him, I’m able to see him so it makes it a lot easier. He told me in the beginning it’ll be hard, but it gets better… and it’s great.”
Scally has enjoyed the adjustment period, telling ESPN that introduction to life at Gladbach has been “very, very welcoming. The players have taken me under their wing and helped me a lot.” He’s spoken most to Oscar Wendt, the Sweden defender who’s friends with NYCFC full-back Anton Tinnerholm, and 18-year-old midfielder Rocco Reitz. Then comes the training: it’s a higher intensity than what he’s used to, but he’s relishing the chance to get stuck in.
Over at Gent in the Belgian First Division A, center-back McKenzie has found that the intensity of training naturally forces him to take his game to the next level. “I’m trying to ultimately push myself, but also push my teammates, make their jobs, make their lives harder,” McKenzie says. “The thing here is, the processing has to be fast, you’ve got to know what you’ve got to do before you get the ball. Your awareness, where you’re at on the pitch.
“As center-backs, the runs and the interchange between the attackers, and the positions, I think in all those areas, the tempo and the intensity has climbed up a notch.”
Scally has two immediate things on his to-do list. First, he needs to learn German. “It’s tough… I’m starting lessons as I need to learn the language. Most of the guys on the team speak English so it hasn’t been hard but the coach, when he does practice, speaks in German.” And second? He needs to source a different video-game console. “Everyone here has PlayStation… the guys on the team were like, ‘We don’t play XBox’. It’s all FIFA, Fortnite, Call of Duty … I’m good at FIFA.”
Scally is just one of 50 U.S.-qualified players in Germany‘s top three divisions and has followed the path many others have taken from the States to the Continent, or from other countries, to settle in the Bundesliga. At German side TSG Hoffenheim, 16- to 18-year-olds can choose between boarding school and host families. “We like pairing them with host families as it helps them stay grounded and adjust,” says Hoffenheim’s head of international operations, Tony Mamodaly. “But every player is different. Some guys are 16 and are like 25, and others are 22 and have never cooked in their life before.”
Once the player goes through into the senior setup — or for those new arrivals signed as first-team players — the club has two player liaison officers available alongside the team manager, including one who’s there for the Brazilian players they sign.
“They take care of apartments, logistics and help them settle in,” Mamodaly says. “They give [new signings] recommendations on the best areas to live and also take care of their health insurance. One of the most important things is communication: We want them to be part of the team so they need to speak the language.” Hoffenheim have in-house teachers and a collaboration with Anpfiff ins Leben — an organization that helps young people prepare for the future, both professionally and personally — to help the players adjust.
“We try to help the kids develop as athletes, but also human beings and use sports as a tool to access life,” Mamodaly says.
Hoffenheim are also home to 16-year-old Las Vegas-born midfielder Lucas Tamarez, as well as 19-year-old winger Quincy Butler from Sacramento, Cal. “We really try to be there for our guys 24/7,” Mamodaly says. In the words of our team manager, we can give them the wings but they need to learn to fly themselves.”
Scally’s still waiting for his cooking to round out, but he’s settled into life at Gladbach, with a steady routine of training and then FaceTiming his family and girlfriend every day. He’s loving life in Germany and is looking forward to his debut, but he’s missing his pancakes. “I can’t find the mix anywhere,” Scally says. “I asked Gio about it and he actually made the same mistake, so brought it back from home. So I need to find that.”
And while McKenzie has a few pairs of his 100-strong shoe collection with him, he’s trying to work out how to get the rest over. “It’s definitely going to be quite interesting in trying to get my precious cargo from home sent out here,” McKenzie says. “But I got a few of my ‘gem’ pieces with me, just to make my next place feel a little bit like home.” — Tom Hamilton, with additional reporting by Jeff Carlisle
A few minutes with … Brenden Aaronson
Aaronson moved to Salzburg with arguably the most hype of any MLS player moving overseas since Alphonso Davies left the Vancouver Whitecaps for Bayern Munich, where he’s gone on to become one of the best left-backs in the world, if not the best. There’s no doubt about it: There is a large contingent of fans in the U.S. more interested than ever in the Austrian Bundesliga.
So, fresh off scoring on his Salzburg debut in a 6-0 friendly win over second-division side Vorwaerts Steyr, Aaronson sat down with ESPN’s Sebastian Salazar to talk about his move to Europe.
Brenden Aaronson discusses the abundance of young talent in the USMNT system and his goals with the team.
Stock watch: Assessing the ups and downs of Americans abroad
Matthew Hoppe, Schalke 04 — On the rise: Hoppe’s breakout has been a curious one. The 19-year-old Californian had never been a particularly proficient scorer in Schalke’s junior ranks, to the point that some at the club were unsure whether he’d make it at senior level, sources told ESPN’s Stephan Uersfeld, but he had a reputation for his hunger and his ferocious training. Injuries in the forward line gave him his shot, and in addition to the height and speed he brings to Schalke’s front line, Hoppe has demonstrated clinical finishing to net four goals in six Bundesliga appearances.
Now that he’s a known quantity he won’t be able to take opponents by surprise anymore, increasing the pressure on his shoulders, which will only grow following the arrival of club-legend striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Yunus Musah, Valencia — Trending down: After lighting up La Liga in the opening months of the 2020-21 season, Musah has fallen back to earth — though still just 18 years old, “falling back to earth” is only relative to his prodigious beginnings — starting just two of Valencia’s past eight games. According to ESPN’s Sid Lowe, that has little to do with any regression from the New York-born midfielder and everything to do with the return to form and fitness of Goncalo Guedes and Denis Cheryshev, along with the emergence of Thierry Correia pushing Daniel Wass back into midfield.
The circumstances of a thinned squad gave Musah the platform to take off, and the circumstances of teammates now fit and in form has taken it away — for the time being, anyway.
DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United — On the rise: In the first three months of Newcastle’s season, Yedlin had played just 180 minutes, all in the Carabao Cup. In 10 games since the start of December, he’s started six and come off the bench in two more. Steve Bruce seems to be taking a right-back-by-committee approach this season, but at present, the former Seattle Sounders FC standout has the hot hand. Ultimately he may still leave the club when his contract expires this summer — this run of form will only increase the number of interested parties — but his departure may no longer be the foregone conclusion it once appeared to be if he keeps getting minutes for the mid-table Magpies.
Julian Green, Greuther Furth — On the rise: When fit, Green has always been a starter for Furth, but this season has seen him hit new heights, with sources telling ESPN’s Stephan Uersfeld that the team’s shift from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 — which has meant Green moving from a wing position to a No. 8 role — and fully grasping manager Stefan Leitl’s methods in his second season in charge of the 2. Bundesliga club firmly in the race for promotion.
Green, who made his U.S. debut six-and-a-half years ago, is still only 25 — and has never given up hope of returning to the national team.
One year and a week after making his senior debut for Wolves in a 4-0 Europa League win against Besiktas, the 20-year-old made his full Premier League appearance against Burnley on Dec. 21. Although he was taken off by Nuno Espirito Santo after an hour, Otasowie displayed some good runs, showed off his deft first touch and was not short of confidence.
On the evidence of the night at Turf Moor, the American may still need some matches to deal with the pace of the traffic in the centre of a Premier League midfield, as he was caught in possession on a number of occasions. But since then, Otasowie has been given a few more minutes coming off the bench: in fact, he could’ve marked the new year as an unlikely hero had he managed to direct his injury time header under the bar against Brighton right before the final whistle in the 3-3 draw.
The New York City-born midfielder, who collected his first USMNT cap with a late substitute appearance against Wales in November, is easily recognised by his imposing physique and neat ball control. Whether he’ll end up as a holding midfielder or a box-to-box “number 8” is still a subject of discussion, but he clearly has the characteristics to make a career in both roles: he usually has a measured and precise passing game, takes up intelligent positions and is hard to knock off the ball when he sets off on forward runs, though he’s still prone to overdo this aspect, and can end up running into blind alleys. — Tor-Kristian Karlsen