Before the nascent NYCFC academy was producing talents currently breaking through in MLS and abroad, their first golden generation of talent were just some early-teenage kids with a dream.
At various tournaments that populate the wild ride that is youth soccer in America, some of the memories most fond are borne in finding ways to kill downtime. Soccer in hotel hallways, shenanigans at the pool, innumerable pranks on teammates both old and new. If you were lucky, someone would bring their Xbox or Playstation with a few controllers and the latest edition of EA Sports' FIFA.
Two members of NYCFC's first generation of talent remember those seemingly mundane yet special times between matches, as they picked up a number of trophies over the years that culminated with back-to-back U-19 Development Academy national titles. Rising prospects Joe Scally and Gio Reyna played too many games of FIFA to count, the virtual stage they dreamed to find themselves on in real life one day.
Wouldn't it be cool if we were on this team? Yeah, I'd look good in that yellow kit.
Both players would make it professional, yet that milestone appears to be the first of many for each. Reyna opted to leave the NYCFC academy and sign for German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, where he enjoyed his star turn over the last six months as he broke into the first team. Meanwhile, Scally signed a Homegrown deal with his boyhood club before Borussia Monchengladbach acquired him for a reported $2 million. He joins on January 1 after he turns 18-years-old.
“We'd just be playing FIFA in our rooms, playing with any team," Scally told MLSsoccer.com this week. "Like ‘yo, how sick would it be to play on this team?’ Now we’ll have to go against each other. It’s gonna be fun.”
A dream once talked about in hotel rooms over video games is soon to be a reality. To make it even better, the pals will be a short car ride away from each other as Monchengladbach sits about an hour west of Dortmund.
“Me and Gio talk all the time, he’s like my best friend," Scally said. “We talk every day about it. It's going to be great."
Monchengladbach just wrapped up a strong season, finishing in fourth place and earning a berth to the Champions League. They were just four points behind Reyna's Dortmund. Scally watched every minute along the way in preparation, as he continues to work on learning German. He admits it's not so easy, but it's coming along.
The fullback will arrive and be put straight into the first team, with no plans from the club to go on loan. Scally will have the chance to acclimate in his new surroundings and see where he fits, competing for minutes. Depending how that second half of the Bundesliga season goes, there could be a decision on whether or not he's ready for a regular role in the team or if it'd be more beneficial to go on loan for consistent playing time.
Monchengladbach favor a high-energy, attack-minded system under head coach Marco Rose. They press high up the pitch and rely on caffeinated perpetual movement. Rose previously coached at Red Bull Salzburg.
“I definitely fit in with their style of play," Scally said. "The fullbacks go up, they're very attack-minded, but still good at defense. All my traits and qualities should fit in there. I can’t wait to go. ... It’s been my dream to play in Europe. The Bundesliga is a top league, just hearing them and their project, I fell in love with the club.”
Scally was a popular player with European scouts from an early age, the subject of interest from various clubs during his teenage years with the NYCFC academy and US youth national teams. His potential was clear and NYCFC signed him to a Homegrown deal in 2018, when he was just 15-years-old. He has yet to make his MLS debut — though he made his professional debut in the US Open Cup last year and another cameo in the Concacaf Champions League this winter — and that very well may change this month.
At the MLS is Back Tournament, with games compressed over a short period of time in the Orlando heat after a long layoff, clubs will rely on their entire squads.
"I’ve been dreaming of my debut for two and a half years now," Scally said. "The first thing I wanted to check off when I signed was making my MLS debut. Hopefully that’ll happen in Orlando. It’d be a little different than walking out at Yankee Stadium, but hey, if it’s an MLS debut, then it’s an MLS debut.”
Scally is among the first wave of NYCFC academy kids maturing into professionals. Reyna headlines the group with his exploits in both the Bundesliga and Champions League with Dortmund, while James Sands, the club's first-ever Homegrown signing, carved out a regular role with the NYCFC first team last year. Justin Haak and Tayvon Gray, two more highly-rated teenagers, signed their first professional contracts with the first team this year. Just last week, former academy standout Augustus McGiff signed with English side Reading.
James Sands, NYCFC's first-ever Homegrown signing, has carved out regular minutes with the first team. | USA Today Sports Images
The trailblazing group has become the walking, attainable representation of what the current crop of academy hopefuls aim to achieve. Even at a club like NYCFC, with their budget and aspirations, there's a path to the first team. And there's a path to Europe, where Scally will be the latest NYCFC academy graduate hoping to leave his mark.
As he looks forward to his move, Scally and Reyna remain in regular contact and still enjoy games of FIFA, just like back in those hotels.
“I honestly think I’m the lowest rated player in the game," Scally said with a laugh. He's not quite the lowest, but with an overall rating of just 49, he's only three points above the bottom. Reyna and Sands, for comparison, are both rated 66. "I used myself a few times, it didn’t go well. I’m yelling at the TV: ‘What is this touch!’”
Maybe he'll get a better virtual representation in next year's game, as the next batch of academy standouts fire up their gaming consoles, playing out Dortmund vs. Monchengladbach with Reyna and Scally in the starting XIs.