In the lead-up to Tuesday’s hotly anticipated grudge match between German soccer rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund — eventually won 1-0 by Bayern on Joshua Kimmich’s peach of a goal — there was legitimate reason to believe that 17-year-old American midfielder Giovanni Reyna could make his first career Bundesliga start for Dortmund.
Reyna had been scheduled to make his starting debut 10 days earlier in another derby, that one against Schalke, before a tight leg muscle flared up in warmups to intervene. The youngster clearly has earned manager Lucien Favre’s trust. With just three days of rest for Dortmund’s regulars following Saturday’s 2-0 win over Wolfsburg, the prospect of taking advantage of Reyna’s fresh legs for the most important contest of this coronavirus-cursed season must’ve been enticing.
But Reyna wasn’t in the lineup for Favre, who stuck with the same team from the weekend. Reyna wasn’t the first option off the bench, either; Jadon Sancho replaced Julian Brandt at halftime with Dortmund trailing.
Reyna did come on later in the second half, replacing a banged-up Erling Haaland, who on a different day might have won his side a result-changing penalty. The son of former United States World Cup team captain Claudio Reyna won a free kick in a dangerous position almost immediately after entering, but it came to nothing. It was Reyna’s main contribution during his 18 minutes on the field.
Some U.S. men’s national team supporters are probably disappointed.
They should be elated.
As understandable as it is to want this latest teenage American prospect to replicate or even surpass the early success his compatriot Christian Pulisic enjoyed in Dortmund at the same age, Reyna is forging his own path while Favre and Dortmund develop him at precisely the right pace.
Fans are naturally impatient. The best-run soccer clubs in the world are the opposite. And no team in Europe’s top domestic leagues is better or more methodical when it comes to bringing along young talent than Borussia Dortmund.
Inside the most globally renowned squads, nothing is given to anyone. Players must earn the right to play. The next day, they have to do it again.
Ask Sancho. Last season, the dynamic young Englishman emerged as one of the brightest prospects anywhere. His breakout pushed Pulisic, who had been plagued by a series of nagging leg injuries, out of a starting spot. But when Sancho’s form dipped ever so slightly just before the Bundesliga shut down for two months because of the COVID-19 crisis, he swiftly lost his place. Tuesday marked the 20-year-old’s fourth-straight substitute appearance.
Favre made two more changes after sending on Reyna. In the 80th minute, he turned to Mario Gotze, whose extra-time goal won the World Cup for Germany in 2014. Five minutes later, in came veteran Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.
It says plenty that Reyna was summoned ahead of teammates of that caliber in a match of this magnitude, in a moment when his team desperately needed a goal to keep alive the dream of catching Bayern in the Bundesliga title race. It shows how confident Dortmund’s leadership is in him despite his tender age.
They have a plan for Reyna, as they did for Pulisic, as they do for Haaland and Sancho. So far Reyna has featured in every game the club has played in 2020 except the one where he was injured. His list of accomplishments includes a stunner of a first goal for Dortmund and a pair of appearances in the knockout stage of the Champions League, which made him the youngest American ever to appear in the planet’s most prestigious club competition.
A milestone like that gets people excited. It makes them want more. Reyna’s first start will come soon enough, but not before his bosses believe that his inclusion gives the Black and Yellow its best chance to win. That’s how it should be.
Considering the responsibility Borussia Dortmund has placed on Giovanni Reyna already, they’ll know better than anyone when the moment is right.
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