Gio Reyna's learning curve at Borussia Dortmund


On the face of it, the 2020/21 season has been a resounding success for Gio Reyna: a first full season with the Borussia Dortmund first team, a USMNT debut, DFB Cup success and qualification for the UEFA Champions League.

Not only that, but Reyna was not merely a bit-part player for BVB this term; he has featured in 31 of their 33 league matches so far, starting 23, scored his first top-flight goals and was rewarded with a long-term contract extension until 2025.

Scratch beneath the surface a little, however, and it has not only been a continuous highlight reel for the teenager, who only turned 18 last November.

Watch: Reyna - football in the family

After beginning the campaign began in spectacular style by netting the team's first goal of the season - and his first in the Bundesliga - in a 3-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, he followed that up with a slice of history by becoming the youngest player ever to provide three assists in one match in the 4-0 demolition of Freiburg on Matchday 3.

By the end of Matchday 11 in mid-December, a 5-1 defeat at home to VfB Stuttgart, the New York native had three goals and five assists from eight starts, an outstanding personal return, even if Dortmund themselves were down in fifth due to some mixed results under Lucien Favre. He had also scored on just his second senior appearance for Gregg Berhalter's USMNT in November, having made the first of four outings for the USA earlier that month.

All in all, then, things appeared to be going well for Reyna. Little did he know at the time, but his goal in the Stuttgart defeat would be his last for a while. Favre was shown the door at the Signal Iduna Park and under interim head coach Edin Terzic, Dortmund had some teething problems.

It is hardly surprising that Reyna's own form suffered as a result and it was another four months - spanning 22 games in all competitions - until the attacking midfielder was directly involved in another goal. Of those 22 matches, Reyna started just 11 times and did not play at all on three occasions. So what happened?

"Gio's still a teenager so it's completely normal for him to have periods where it's not so easy," Terzic said in April.

"We wanted to help him through these phases so that he could get back to performing well as quickly as possible. We talked to him a lot and tried to make a few things clear to him and what we expect of him. We made it clear to him what his tasks are, and that we're always here to support him, even if he doesn't start some games."

Having your boss's backing is always helpful, but in concrete terms, what had been lacking? In short, building up his confidence again to the point where Reyna glides past defenders as if they weren’t there.

Edin Terzic kept faith with Reyna even in a fallow spell, helping him get back to his glittering best. - Lars Baron/Getty Images

"What we worked really hard on was him regaining the courage to seek out one-on-one opportunities," Terzic said after Reyna's goal in the 4-1 win over Werder Bremen on Matchday 29 in mid-April. "That's what we've been lacking a bit in recent weeks and that's where he's taken a big step forwards.

"You just need to look at the way he powered through last week on the right wing [against Stuttgart on Matchday 28], and set up a goal. He was involved again today and his goal was extraordinarily good.

"You can see his qualities. But also the way he always added tempo to the game, he had the courage to go into the one-on-ones. We've worked on that and we won’t stop working on it; we'll keep going because that's exactly what we need him to do."

Watch: Highlights of Dortmund's win over Bremen

It has borne fruit. Reyna may have only come off the bench in the final minute of Dortmund's DFB Cup final success over Leipzig, but it was he who orchestrated the semi-final win over Holstein Kiel, scoring the first two goals in the opening 23 minutes of a 5-0 victory before being taken off at half-time, his work done.

Moreover, he has started each of Dortmund's last six Bundesliga assignments, which have produced six wins to propel the club back into the top four and secure a spot in next season's Champions League.

As important as those tangible triumphs are given the demands at elite level, the lessons he has learned along the way will no doubt prove to be equally valuable in the long term.