Why U.S. youth international Gio Reyna has the perfect conditions to thrive at Borussia Dortmund

For the neutral soccer fan, there is no greater team in the world to watch than Borussia Dortmund.

Die Schwarzgelben play an exciting, high-pressing style on a template constructed by the master of the art, former manager Jurgen Klopp. They compete at the highest level in Europe, and their match day performances often provide rollercoaster-style thrills and spills. Their defending often leaves a lot to be desired, but they will try to make up for this shortcoming by relying on a plethora of youthful attacking options.

A case in point is last weekend’s victory over Augsburg, which perfectly encapsulated BVB’s gung-ho “we’ll try to score more than you” oeuvre.

Lucien Favre’s side were 3-1 down before the introduction of new signing Erling Haaland, whose hat trick inspired a 5-3 win. The 19-year-old, however, wasn’t even the best Dortmund player on the pitch: fellow teenager Jadon Sancho put in a sublime performance, providing an incredible defense-splitting assist for one of Haaland’s goals before bagging one of his own.

Halaand and Sancho are joined in the attack by several other precocious stars. But a compelling reason to vouch for Dortmund as the world’s best team for neutral fans — particularly neutral fans of an American persuasion — is the latest young jewel in their crown: Gio Reyna.

U.S. youth international Gio Reyna has already cracked Borussia Dortmund's senior team at just 17 years old. (Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)
U.S. youth international Gio Reyna has already cracked Borussia Dortmund's senior team at just 17 years old. (Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

Born in Durham, England in 2002 while his father, two-time U.S. World Cup captain Claudio Reyna, was playing at Sunderland, Gio became the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga with his substitute appearance against Augsburg, at 17 years and 66 days old.

There was a pleasing symmetry to his appearance alongside Haaland in the match day squad: 17 years earlier, their fathers Claudio and Alf-Inge Haaland both played together at Manchester City.

Named after his father’s former Rangers teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Reyna also shares plenty of symmetry with the biggest star of the current USMNT. Much like Christian Pulisic, he came to Dortmund from a U.S. Soccer Development Academy side at the age of 16.

Reyna also broke into the Dortmund first team in a matter of months. He was exactly 103 days younger than the Pennsylvania-born winger when he made his Bundesliga debut.

And, much like Pulisic, Reyna is expected to reach the very top of the game. At Borussia Dortmund, he has the perfect springboard for success: a team that believes in giving youth prospects a chance, in a system that lets dynamic attacking talents thrive.

It’s clear that Dortmund are excited by the prospect they have on their hands, and some even expect him to exceed Pulisic’s achievements.

“I think his talent is similar to Christian Pulisic, or maybe a little bit better,” said BVB assistant coach Jorg Heinrich. “But we want to keep him grounded because we’ve seen what happens to a lot of the young players.”

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has similarly high expectations: “[Reyna]’s a big, big talent. I think he will do a lot for American soccer in the next five or 10 years.”

Inheriting the DNA of soccer royalty — his mother is former USWNT star Danielle Egan — Reyna’s gift has been evident from an early age.

Gio joined the New York City FC academy in 2015, when his father was sporting director at the club. It soon became clear that his place in the academy had nothing to do with nepotism. At just 14, he led his under-17 team to victory in the Generation Adidas Cup, and went on to represent the U.S. at various youth levels.

Gio Reyna is the son of former USMNT star Claudio Reyna (pictured) and USWNT star Danielle Egan. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)
Gio Reyna is the son of former USMNT star Claudio Reyna (pictured) and USWNT star Danielle Egan. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)

Reyna moved to Germany last July, where he immediately made an impact in Dortmund’s summer U.S. tour. As a 16-year-old, he earned minutes in wins over the Seattle Sounders and Udinese, and provided an assist in a 3-2 win over Liverpool in front of over 40,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.

In a similar vein to Pulisic, Reyna is considered as a gifted all-rounder, who can thrive in a central or wide midfield position. He possesses more technical ability than his father — by his father’s own admission — and has the pace for which his mother was renowned. He is praised for a high level of soccer intelligence that allows him to place passes that others don’t see, while his gift for finding the net from set pieces is also notable.

“For a kid, he has this physical presence and his game understanding is really good,” said Patrick Vieira, his coach at NYCFC and a longtime midfield star at Arsenal. “He can score goals, he understands the demands of the game tactically. He's a really smart kid and he's shown some really good stuff."

With such qualities, it is easy to see how Reyna fits in at a club like Dortmund, in a league where physicality and technical skill must go hand-in-hand.

“Almost every club in Europe was in for him, but Giovanni had us in mind very early on,” said Dortmund Sporting Director Michal Zorc last summer.

“Giovanni is a huge talent,” he added. “We're very proud we were able to bring him to the club.”

There’s no shortage of competition for places at the Westfalenstadion, but Reyna impressed in his debut and has already earned a place in Dortmund’s Champions League squad.

In a few weeks, Favre’s side will host Paris Saint-Germain, in what promises to be one of the most entertaining fixtures this season, featuring two sides packed with attacking talent. It will be appointment viewing for the neutral fan, who may also savor the prospect of a cameo from one of the brightest young American stars in the game.

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