Gio Reyna has gone from strength to strength since making his first appearance for Borussia Dortmund on 18 January 2020. Intelligent on the ball and quick over the ground, the 18-year-old's first 12 months as a senior player suggest this is very much just the beginning.
Michael Zorc would have had Reyna in mind when discussing how Dortmund are likely to improve under interim head coach Edin Terzic in 2021. Speaking to club media in an interview released on New Year's Day, the Dortmund sporting director seemed confident that the young squad he has assembled would only get better.
"Overall I think we have a good team that has a lot of quality," he said, highlighting the importance of Erling Haaland returning from injury and the potential of 16-year-old record breaker Youssoufa Moukoko.
"We also want to bring a new spirit to the pitch, so we will play fresh, attacking football at BVB and present it to our fans."
Having already played a big part in helping Dortmund qualify for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and the DFB Cup, Reyna should be at the forefront of their challenge on three fronts in the new year.
A dramatic debut
Like the devastating Haaland, the American's progress since making his first appearance in black and yellow has been remarkable. It is fair to say, though, that he was somewhat overshadowed on his debut.
With Dortmund trailing 3-1 trailing in Augsburg last January, Reyna watched on as winter signing Haaland was introduced after 56 minutes.
By the time the son of former USA internationals Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan stepped onto the field 16 minutes later, the Norwegian who had preceded him already had two goals to his name.
Haaland completed a breathtaking 20-minute debut hat-trick soon after but - although the former Salzburg player understandably dominated the headlines - Reyna had made his mark.
Watch: Learn more about the influence of Reyna's famous parents
Aged only 17 years and two months at the time, the ex-New York City FC youngster allowed Marco Reus to play in Haaland for his hat-trick goal. Reyna had taken out three Augsburg players in the build-up by winning the ball, dribbling forward, and moving it smartly to his skipper.
He was first over to celebrate with his fellow debutant, too, having shifted through the gears to offer support to his teammate - or to snap up the rebound in the unlikely event Haaland was denied.
Here to stay
Speaking a few days later, then-Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre said the contribution for Haaland's third goal had highlighted Reyna’s feel for the game.
"In training you can see that he has something special," Favre said at the time. "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."
Dortmund's plan was to ease their latest prodigy along, and Reyna's was to show that he belonged. In early February, the attacking midfielder delivered another demonstration of his talent - coming on against Werder Bremen to curl home a sensational first senior goal.
Having been at that time the third-youngest player to line out for the five-time Bundesliga champions, Reyna was now their youngest ever goalscorer in the DFB Cup at 17 years and 83 days.
February was also when he experienced what great European nights in Dortmund are like. Reflecting on how he came on to set up the winning goal for Haaland in a UEFA Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain, Reyna said that was when he had convinced both himself and others that he was in the right place.
"I think the game showed everyone that I'm not just some talent that's going to fade away," he wrote in The Players' Tribune in December. "I'm here to stay."
Like father, like son
The American finished an elongated 2019/20 campaign with two starts and 13 appearances in the league. However, as Jadon Sancho showed - with 12 goals and 14 assists in 2018/19 - talented teenagers can come on leaps and bounds in their first full season as a first-team player.
That seems to be the case with Reyna. He began the 2020/21 campaign in style, netting his first league goal in the opening day victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach. With 17-year-old English youngster Jude Bellingham providing the assist, it marked the youngest combination for a Bundesliga goal in history. Earlier that week, both teens had scored in a 5-0 DFB Cup win over Duisburg - with Bellingham breaking one of Reyna’s records.
Like his father - a former Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg midfielder - Dortmund's latest No.32 has a keen eye for a pass. Two former Bundesliga players Reyna admires, Kevin De Bruyne and Kai Havertz, would have appreciated his efforts as he got a hat-trick of assists in a 4-0 thrashing of Freiburg on Matchday 3.
Watch: Check out Reyna's masterclass against Freiburg
"I think I'm a pretty versatile player," Reyna said earlier this year. "I think I can do a bit of everything. I like to get in the pockets and underneath the front line and try to create for them, and also score goals and [get] assists.
"I've always been pretty fast from a young age. Speed is a very important part of my game. Some guys try to overthink things, but I think to be direct - especially in my position as a winger or as a No. 10 - is what's best. I do everything as quick as possible."
A lot done, more to do
Reyna was swiftly making a name for himself too. November, in particular, was when all his hard work started to bear fruit. He made his debut for the USA the day before his 18th birthday, and then scored his first goal for his country on his second appearance.
Later the same month, he signed a new contract that ties him to the 1997 European champions until 2025.
"Gio has developed unbelievably in the past few months," Zorc said after announcing the deal. "He'll definitely be an important part of Borussia Dortmund's sporting future."
Reyna’s rise, of course, has coincided with Haaland's. The pair's friendship away from the pitch has no doubt helped their great understanding on it - with many of the Norway international's goals coming from one of the American’s passes.
"That chemistry is working," Reyna told bundesliga.com. "I'm just trying to make the whole team's life easy - and especially his."
While ex-Salzburg stiriker Haaland is a couple of steps further on in his career - having picked up the 2020 Golden Boy award - Reyna is determined to follow in the 20-year-old's path.
"I think the time has come for me to become one of the main players on the team," Reyna wrote in The Players' Tribune. "You see guys like Sancho and Haaland - I want to be at their level."
Emulating the likes of former Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, the attacking midfielder was rewarded for his performances for both club and country by being named the US Soccer Young Male Player of the Year for 2020.
Best in the world?
Reyna feels that with football in his blood, he was always destined to be a professional. There was no guarantee, though, that he would be this good.
He has become a first-team regular this season, getting three goals and four assists in the Bundesliga before the winter break. He also featured prominently - with four starts and two substitute appearances - as Dortmund won their Champions League group.
The teenager was one of 10 American players on squad lists for this season's top European competition, but the Dortmund player plans to join a join a slightly more illustrious line-up.
"I already feel like I'm becoming part of the new generation of big players," he said in his piece for The Players’ Tribune. "I don't want to become just a good American player. I want to consistently be one of the top 10 players in the world."
Given how far Reyna has come in one year, who would bet against him doing just that?
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