By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 17, 2023) US Soccer Players – The name on the roster sheets reads Lennard Maloney, but you can call the USMNT’s newest arrival Lenny. “Lennard’s only my name if I messed up and my mom calls me,” the Heidenheim midfielder told USSoccerPlayers.com from the USMNT’s current camp in Nashville.
The words are delivered with a broad grin that underlines Maloney’s enthusiasm about his first senior international opportunity. While sectors of the German media were critical of their national team’s trip to the United States to play the USMNT and Mexico in this month’s window because of the extent of the travel, he had no problems whatsoever making his trip across the Atlantic.
“No,” he said with another smile, “because I was so hyped I didn’t really care about the jet lag.
“The first two days are kind of hard, getting adjusted to jargon, to speaking English only,” he added. “But other than that, I don’t know. I feel home here, so I don’t have a problem.”
This is the fifth visit to the United States for the German-American 24-year-old, two of the previous visits for youth national team duty and two for personal trips. It feels far more familiar than this might indicate, though.
His father, a US Air Force serviceman, met his German mother during a trip to Kenya, on a plane where she was working as a flight attendant. He eventually relocated to Berlin as their relationship took root. Lenny later rose through the Union Berlin academy system before making his first-team debut at age 18 when that club was in the 2.Bundesliga.
Dad spoke English to Lenny around the house and kept him connected to his American heritage, linking him with family members back in Virginia and Florida. Now Maloney seems to be settling in quite quickly with his new soccer family on the USMNT.
“The big picture is that we as a team work really good together, and it’s like family. You have the staff, you have the players, but the players understand each other well and also the players to the staff,” he said. “And it’s just more like one big group and not separated, and everybody that’s here makes it what it is, because they’re bringing their individual characters to the team. Yeah, I think that’s what makes the national team a pretty good one right now.”
He describes it as a bigger version of what he’s experienced at FC Heidenheim. The underdog club from a Bavarian town about the size of Wake Forest, North Carolina has climbed half a dozen levels up the German pyramid since the turn of the century. The final step was a stunningly dramatic promotion triumph on the last day of last season. FCH stormed back from a 2-0 second-half deficit vs Jahn Regensburg to win 3-2 via two injury-time goals and rise from the second flight into the Bundesliga.
Maloney had joined Heidenheim from Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer a year beforehand as he sought regular first-team playing time after featuring mainly for BVB’s reserve side in the third division. He immediately became a central contributor at FCH.
A center back and right back for most of his career up to that point, Maloney has prospered since coach Frank Schmidt, the longest-serving head coach in German professional soccer, converted him into a relentless defensive midfielder. He hopes his spirit, intensity, and physicality can offer something useful for the USMNT.
“I know what I can do and what I’ve probably still got to improve on,” said Maloney. “I never was the kind of player who had the real big talent, so yeah, working for it, that’s my motto. I think we have great types of players in the (USMNT) and I think I’m bringing something different, maybe, to the team and hope to make an impact with what I can do.”
The US program has been monitoring Maloney, who also spent time in the German youth national team system, for several years. Coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff have offered up plenty of praise for what he’s bringing to the table.
“He’s a player that we’ve been tracking for a while. And he’s been part of a team that was able to come through (Bundesliga) promotion, and now he’s having a really good season and he’s a key contributor to that team,” said USMNT assistant coach BJ Callaghan last week. “That’s something that I think, I hope and expect him to bring that confidence in. In terms of him as a player, I think he’s got a real competitive streak. He’s a guy who wants to be in and around the ball. I think there’s a physical presence to him in tackling and aerial duels and covering ground, which I think are attributes that we look for a lot of times in that center midfield role.”
So far Heidenheim has defied predictions that it would be overwhelmed by the competitive level of the top flight, running in 10th-place heading into the international break. Tenacious defensive resilience has been a foundational element in that, and Maloney leads the Bundesliga in distance covered with 89.8 kilometers in the first seven matches.
“Of course, many people probably didn’t expect us, but I wouldn’t say that we’re there where we are right now without purpose. We worked for that,” he said of his club.
“If you look at it, two and a half years ago, you’re still playing in third league or just promoted from fourth to third division. And now you’re overseas with a national team. I think that’s something that you’ve just got to let run through your mind, because it’s just not really realistic yet, you know? But I kind of fit well into the club and I think that’s why it’s the right club for me for the moment.”
FCH is a Cinderella story, and in some ways so is Maloney, the first player in club history to be called up to a national team. That’s just another reason to appreciate every moment of this Stateside experience.
“Just realizing where you at right now, (at age) 24, it’s amazing,” said Maloney. “I never thought that I would be in this position. Yeah, just maybe getting a couple of minutes for the US is something, if you let that run through your mind, it just gives you extra energy. I’m ready.”
Photo by Imago via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com