Jovan Kirovski, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Lennard Maloney (from l.) are among the Americans to have played for Borussia Dortmund. - © Deutsche Fußball Liga DFL 2021
Jovan Kirovski, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Lennard Maloney (from l.) are among the Americans to have played for Borussia Dortmund. - © Deutsche Fußball Liga DFL 2021
bundesliga

From Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna back to Jovan Kirovski: Borussia Dortmund’s American connection

When Lennard Maloney replaced Mats Hummels in the 88th minute of Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 victory over Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday, he became the sixth American player to represent the club, joining Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna in a tradition that began 25 years ago with Jovan Kirovski.

bundesliga.com takes a star-spangled trip down memory lane…

Jovan Kirovski

Position: Striker
At Dortmund: July 1996 – June 1998
BVB Bundesliga appearances: 20 (one goal)

Signed from Manchester United’s youth system by Ottmar Hitzfeld in summer 1996, Kirovski was the first American ever on Dortmund’s books. Only 20 at the time, he admits he was “just trying to get in the team”, a feat made considerably harder by the presence of senior Germany internationals Karl-Heinz Riedle and Andreas Möller, as well as 1996 European Player of the Year Matthias Sammer.

The California native was an unused substitute in the early part of his debut season, but made his Bundesliga bow in the starting line-up on Matchday 9 in a 1-0 defeat by Bochum.

Watch: Pioneer insights from Kirovski

He found the net the very next week, though, scoring his first and only Bundesliga goal as he sealed a 2-0 triumph over Duisburg in the 80th minute. It proved to be a false dawn, however, as Kirovski would only make another five league outings in 1996/97, all of which were as a second-half substitute.

“I was a young kid, at a new club, a big club, trying to earn a spot, trying to get involved,” Kirovski later explained. "I was a back-up as a forward, as a midfielder, so that was my role. I was a young kid trying to make a name for myself, trying to develop.”

He did just that. The right-footer made history that season by becoming the first American to win the UEFA Champions League, even if he wasn’t a member of the matchday squad on the day of the triumph over Juventus. He also became the first American to score in the competition in the following campaign when he struck Dortmund’s second in a 3-0 group stage triumph over Sparta Prague.

That turned out to be the final Champions League appearance of his career, and after the 1997/98 season Kirovski was sent on loan to Fortuna Köln before joining Portuguese side Sporting CP permanently in 2000.

Watch: The Top 10 youngest Americans Bundesliga goalscorers

Conor Casey

Position: Forward
At Dortmund: January 2001 – June 2004
BVB Bundesliga appearances: None (13 for the reserves)

Having enjoyed their first taste of corn-fed, all-American beef, Dortmund were keen for more and moved to bring Casey just six months after Jirovski’s departure. Just 19 at the time, he struck 12 goals in 13 outings for the reserve team in the fourth division, and was even an unused substitute in the Champions League group match against Boavista in October 2001.

Deemed too good for the second team but not quite ready for the step up into the first string by head coach Sammer, Casey joined Bundesliga 2 side Hannover on loan. He finished 2001/02 with a respectable seven goals from 19 appearances, averaging one for every 144 minutes on the pitch and helping Hannover earn promotion to the top flight.

Casey stayed with the club into the next season but only made four substitute appearances in the Bundesliga, scoring once in Hannover’s 1-0 win over Arminia Bielefeld on the final day of the campaign.

Another loan followed the next year, and he was the main man at Karlsruher with 14 goals in 30 Bundesliga 2 outings in 2003/04. That was enough to catch Mainz’s attention, and he joined the 05ers on a permanent move in summer 2004 without ever making a competitive appearance for Dortmund’s first team.

Conor Casey (c.), playing against Dortmund while at Mainz in 2005. - /

Joe Gyau

Position: Right-back
At Dortmund: July 2014 – January 2017
BVB Bundesliga appearances: One

It was a decade until another American laced his boots for the club. Gyau had already been in Germany for three years by the time BVB came calling, having joined Hoffenheim at 17 and had a loan spell at St. Pauli.

The son and grandson of former professional footballers, his career looked set for lift-off. The pacy full-back had made his Bundesliga debut in a Hoffenheim side containing Roberto Firmino and USMNT all-rounder Fabian Johnson in 2013/14, and arrived in a Dortmund squad managed by Jürgen Klopp.

Gyau was in BVB’s matchday roster in five of the first seven games in 2014/15, and made what transpired to be his only top-flight appearance as a 74th minute replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a 2-2 draw with VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 5.

Joe Gyau (r.) celebrates a Dortmund win with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (l.) and Ciro Immobile (c.) in 2014. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Thomas Bielefeld

That came just a couple of weeks after making his USMNT debut under Jürgen Klinsmann against Czech Republic – but his next international cap would prove a fateful, career-defining one. Gyau sustained a serious knee injury against Ecuador in October 2014 that kept him on the sidelines for the best part of two years.

The defender described that period of recovery and rehabilitation as “an unforgiving process”; his next competitive appearance was as a 90th-minute substitute for Dortmund’s reserves on 29 October 2016. Another cameo appearance arrived for the second string in December that year, and he would join third-division side Sonnenhof Großaspach in January 2017 in search of more regular first-team football.

Following a season there, Gyau moved to fellow third-tier side Duisburg before returning to his homeland and the MLS in 2019 with FC Cincinnati, where he remains today.

Gyau hobbles off the pitch on 10 October 2014 after suffering a serious knee injury while playing for the USMNT. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Icon SMI

Christian Pulisic

Position: Attacking midfield / wing
At Dortmund: February 2015 – June 2019
BVB Bundesliga appearances: 90 (13 goals)

If the first three Americans had mixed results at Dortmund, Pulisic well and truly raised the bar for what was possible. His Croatian heritage (and passport) allowed him to move to Europe at the age of 16 in early 2015. It was clear to the club’s coaches that he was already too good for the U17s and U19s, with Klopp inviting him to train with the senior pros on a regular basis.

It wasn’t until the following season, under Thomas Tuchel, that Pulisic managed to break through, though. After being taken along to the first team’s winter training camp in Dubai in December 2015, he was soon fast-tracked into the side and made his Bundesliga debut in January 2016 against Ingolstadt at the age of just 17.

That was the first of nine league appearances that season, accompanied by two goals, as the Hershey, Pennsylvania native wasted no time in showing he belonged at the very top.

Watch: Pulisic - made in the Bundesliga

“We’re very happy with his development,” said Tuchel of the teenage sensation. “Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that he’s actually an U19 player, but he’s been a full member of the first team for us. He’s very confident, has a lot of resistance to stress, has a lot of physical qualities and pace and he’s able to produce his best performances in the big games.”

As a result, the right-footer broke a number of records on his unstoppable rise into the elite, including becoming the youngest player to score two Bundesliga goals, the youngest person to score in for the U.S. in a FIFA World Cup qualifying game, the youngest American and youngest Dortmund player to take part in and score in the Champions League.

Not only that, he became the youngest American to win a piece of major silverware in Europe’s top five league when he helped Dortmund lift the DFB Cup in 2017. A first-team regular in his three full seasons at the club, he departed for Chelsea in summer 2019 as one of the brightest young talents in the game.

Furthermore, his success paved the way for many more of his compatriots to brave crossing the Atlantic at an early age, including Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and…

Gio Reyna

Position: Attacking midfield
At Dortmund: July 2019 - present
BVB Bundesliga appearances: 50 (six goals)

Like Pulisic, Reyna was able to join a European club before his 18th birthday thanks to having dual American-Portuguese citizenship. And like Pulisic, he quickly demonstrated that he was far too good for the youth sides and was promoted to the first team within six months of arriving in Germany.

A New York FC academy graduate and son of former USMNT, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Claudio Reyna, Gio has been making waves since seamlessly stepping up into the first team.

At home in central attacking midfield, he favours coming in off the left-hand channel, and that is precisely where he scored his first senior goal. Drifting inside in just his fifth game for the pros, he jinked past two defenders and curled a superb effort into the top corner against Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup, at the time making him the youngest ever goalscorer in the DFB Cup at 17 years and 83 days.

"In training you can see that he has something special," then head coach Lucien Favre said. "If you can’t see that, you're blind. His movement is correct, he plays in the right way and he can already do a lot at his age."

So much so that he made 32 Bundesliga appearances in his first full season in 2020/21, 23 of them in the starting line-up. Reyna also featured in Dortmund’s DFB Cup final triumph over RB Leipzig in summer 2021 and this season became the youngest player ever to make 50 Bundesliga appearances.

Not only is he already a full US international, Reyna is a key member of the side and earmarked as one of its cornerstone for the next decade.

"I don't want to become just a good American player,” he told The Players’ Tribune. I want to consistently be one of the top 10 players in the world." Considering he doesn’t turn 19 until mid-November, he is well on track to achieving that.

Watch: Half a century of Gio Reyna - and more to come

Lennard Maloney

Position: Centre-back, full-back
At Dortmund: August 2021 - present
BVB Bundesliga appearances: One

Berlin-born and raised, Maloney is eligible for the US thanks to his father, who was a member of the Air Force stationed in Germany. A Union Berlin youth academy graduate, he only made one senior appearance for the club – in the second division in 2017/18 at the age of 18 – before dividing his time between training and completing his school leaving exams.

Maloney signed a contract extension in April 2019, keeping him at Union until June 2021, but he spent the second half of 2019/20 on loan at Chemnitzer in Germany's third division.

Despite making eight appearances - including his first win and clean sheet as a Chemnitz player against Preußen Münster on Matchday 33 - he could not prevent the Saxony outfit from being relegated on the final day of the season.

Maloney (l.) shakes hands with Bielefeld’s Fabian Klos after making his Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 9. - Martin Rose/Getty Images

That didn't dull Dortmund's interest, though, and he signed on to play for Die Schwarzgelben's U23s for the 2020/21 season, featuring 34 times as they won the Regionalliga West (regional fourth division) title.

The left-sided centre-back has been a mainstay in the Dortmund reserves in 2021/22 as well, and his performances have not gone unnoticed by first-team head coach Marco Rose, who gave the defender his Bundesliga debut on Matchday 9.

Many more are surely to come as Maloney plots a path onto the international scene. "Playing for the United States is one of my greatest dreams,” he told AmericanSoccerNow. “Of course it's also nice to play for Germany. But deep inside my heart, I really want to play for the USA. I don't know why, this feeling is just there."