‘The American Dream.’ It might not stick as a nickname, but Erling Haaland revealed that’s what he calls Gio Reyna after the 17-year-old marked his first start for Borussia Dortmund with an assist to the Norwegian striker. There had been glimpses of the American’s potential in a number of cameos made off the bench for the Bundesliga outfit before that, but this was the first real showcase he’d put on.
Reyna, the son of former US international midfielder Claudio Reyna, couldn’t be in a better place for his development. Dortmund have, in recent times, earned themselves a reputation as European soccer’s best finishing school. A place where talented youngsters go to become fully fledged superstars.
That’s why Haaland, who had the pick of the sport’s biggest and best clubs in January, opted for a move to the Westfalenstadion and it’s part of the reason so many believe Reyna will also reach the top. As 17-year-olds go, only Ansu Fati at Barcelona is making the sort of impression at the elite level that Reyna is.
Of course, it’s not so long ago that another US youngster broke through at Dortmund. Christian Pulisic was the club’s original ‘American Dream,’ earning himself a mega-money $73 million move to Chelsea last summer, having been linked with pretty much every other top tier club at one point or another.
Comparison between the two is natural and unavoidable. As exciting as Reyna is, it’s still somewhat unknown whether or not he is up to the standard of Pulisic–who just Thursday made Manchester City's defense look like a League One outfit with his brilliant individual goal. Regardless, the teenager has already earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as some of Borussia Dortmund’s best young players, of which they are well stocked.
“In training you can see that he has something special. If you can’t see that, you’re blind,” Dortmund boss Lucien Favre asserted in a recent interview. “His movement is correct, he plays in the right way and he can already do a lot at his age. He defends very cleverly too. That’s not easy to do at the age of 17, but he already does it well. He can score goals and play the final ball.”
Indeed, it’s Reyna’s final product that marks him out against other young players of a similar age. That is quite often the last thing to be added to a creative player’s game, linked to the presence of mind and calmness needed in the final third, but Reyna is inherently productive, as he showed with his expert assist for Haaland against RB Leipzig.
Reyna also possesses a physicality that belies his age. The 17-year-old will continue to fill out as he matures, but he has the stamina and drive to more than cope with the demands of the Bundesliga. This explains how he has been able to make an instant impact this season, even challenging Jadon Sancho for a starting place recently. And while that's likely due the changes in substitution rules–each team permitted five per match rather than the typical three–as well as Favre's desire to ease players back in after a multi-month layaway, the mere fact that the youngster is trusted to fill those boots speaks volumes.
American soccer fans are sometimes guilty of impatience when it comes to the emergence of young players. The country has had to wait such a long for its first genuine male superstar in the sport. Anyone with the potential to fill that void has the weight of immediate expectations heaped on his shoulders. Landon Donovan experienced it, as did Pulisic. Now Reyna will feel the burden that comes with being an American tipped for the top.
Competition for places is stiff at the Westfalenstadion right now, with Haaland, Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Sancho all jockeying for position in the pecking order. But with Gotze set to leave Dortmund at the end of the season and Sancho potentially on his way back to the Premier League, according to the latest speculation, Reyna could soon move up the hierarchy.
This is how Dortmund tend to work. Even when they are developing one young star, there is another following not far behind on the production line. Ousmane Dembele was followed by Christian Pulisic was followed by Jadon Sancho, who now appears set to be followed by Reyna. Like every young player that passes through the club, Dortmund have a plan for the American. He need only look at his aforementioned predecessors for an idea of where that could take him.