Radiant Gio Reyna rocking again with on-song Borussia Dortmund
It's what Borussia Dortmund wanted and Bundesliga fans needed: Gio Reyna gracing the beautiful game with a great goal and beaming once again following a first start that set a super standard for the USMNT man to follow in the weeks and months ahead.
It had taken a while. More time than anyone would have wanted. Back in a BVB starting line-up for the first time since last April, Reyna graced the Signal Iduna Park in last weekend's big win against Stuttgart with almost child-like glee. A silky first-half strike to put his team 3-0 in front preceded a long run and celebratory knee slide in front of the buoyant BVB supporters, Reyna's face a picture of release and relief.
A nightmarish period of injury, rehabilitation and relapse was finally, mercifully, at an end and the American boy stretched out his arms, rejoicing in the roars of appreciation that seemed to acknowledge the journey he had faced to get here.
"It was tough but I'm happy to be back," Reyna said after finally putting his injury woes of the past year behind him. "It felt great," he continued. "It's been a long time coming. With [my] goal and then the performance from the whole team and the win, it was great. We're all really happy."
That goal - a tasty, flashing finish from the left across the goalkeeper and into the far corner - was Reyna's first in the Bundesliga in 421 days. He had last scored in a top-flight encounter against Hoffenheim back in August 2021. It was the perfect return to the starting line-up that coincided with Dortmund also back purring at their attacking best following a three-game winless run.
"I think the way we started as a team, the pressing, the early goals, when we play like that, the fans come with us too, which makes it that much harder for the sides we're playing against," the 19-year-old explained following the Black-and-Yellows' 5-0 triumph against VfB. "For me, in my first start, it was to try to help the team and bring energy from the first minute," he added.
Watch: Reyna and BVB take Stuttgart apart
It took all the reserves of energy Reyna had just to reach this point. Dortmund and USMNT fans celebrated his previous comebacks and despaired through his subsequent setbacks from troubling hamstring and muscular problems. Although he recognised that support, the fight to get back to full fitness was often a battle he needed to fight in his own mind just as much as the work it took on his body.
"Yeah, a lot of hard work behind the scenes took place," Reyna admitted. "I think that's what people don't really see and it's the toughest part about it. [The worst part?] I guess having no summer break, rehab five or six hours a day, that's pretty much about it," Dortmund's nimble No.7 continued. "I don't know how many people can stick through that unless you're really hungry to get back as soon as possible.
"It takes time. [Now] I feel confident. I feel healthy and good to go. I just need to keep building up fitness in my legs and my lungs. I think within a few weeks I'll be 110 per cent. Just the fact that I'm back, first Bundesliga start and first goal, [it's] really nice."
Watch: Bellingham & Reyna - a perfect match
Of course, the benefit of a Reyna return to BVB also boosts the USMNT with a World Cup just around the bend. The former New York City FC starlet - who has four goals and 14 caps with the Stars and Stripes - didn't want to be drawn on his hopes and dreams for Qatar so soon after returning to Dortmund's starting line-up, "To be honest I'm not really thinking about the world cup yet," he said.
Instead, Reyna - who featured for 87 minutes of Borussia's 0-0 draw against Manchester City on Tuesday, a result that took the Bundesliga side through to the tournament's round of 16 - preferred to focus on club matters and how he sees his role under coach Edin Terzic.
"I think with the players we have, [the coach] understands. We have a lot of free-flowing, technical players that can do a bit of everything," Reyna commented. "Whether it's me on the left, on the right or in the middle, I think whoever is playing in the other positions [are also versatile].
"So yeah, just the kind of free flowing, energetic, freedom to attack and keep going forward [style]. If you lose it, try again and stuff like that. It's been good so far."
Happily acknowledging that, "My legs feel pretty good," following last weekend's efforts - "It was energetic, a lot of sprints and a high energy game" - Reyna is looking forward to what lies ahead for both he and his teammates now that morale is high around the Westfalenstadion once more.
"All of us in the locker-room understood we had to be better and play with more energy," he admitted. "It wasn't just [last Saturday's] win, it was the way we played. To have a win like that and a performance to top it off was a big confidence booster for all of us." A confident, fit and smiling Reyna gives football in general an even bigger boost.
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