Why Gio Reyna is set to succeed - and possibly exceed - Christian Pulisic for Borussia Dortmund and the USA
Borussia Dortmund’s starlet Gio Reyna is treading an eerily similar path to the one carved out by fellow American Christian Pulisic and the early foretelling of his career to come should excite both fans of the Black and Yellows and the USA national team.
Reyna’s early shadowing of Pulisic’s breakout in 2015/16 is clear. They both signed for Dortmund as 16-year-old’s from American academies, each represented the USA at U17 FIFA World Cups.
When Reyna was made a permanent member of the Dortmund first team this winter, he celebrated his promotion by scoring in the 4-2 January friendly win over Feyenoord. Back in January of 2016, Pulisic had also been moved to the senior squad full-time as a 17-year-old and marked his own ascension with goals in winter friendly victories over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Union Berlin.
Pulisic was 103 days older than Reyna when he was first named in a matchday squad for Dortmund on Matchday 18 of 2015/16. The son of former USA internationals Claudio and Danielle Egan Reyna was named on the bench for the first time for Dortmund’s 5-0 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf at the end of last year, just 24 days after turning 17.
And his Matchday 18 debut for the seniors in the stunning 5-3 win at Augsburg made Reyna the fifth-youngest player to play in the Bundesliga and youngest American to ever feature in the German top-flight, beating Pulisic's own record. It also came one week ahead of Pulisic's Matchday 19 bow in a 2-0 victory over Ingolstadt and both made those appearances as 17-year-olds just weeks after stepping into the first team fold.
This can’t be mere coincidence. Dortmund assistant coach, and former player at the Signal Iduna Park, Jorg Heinrich believes the similarities are uncanny.
“Gio is a fantastic talent,” he told Goal. “He has loads of potential along with plenty of confidence.
“I think his talent is similar to Christian Pulisic, or maybe a little bit better. But we want to keep him grounded because we’ve seen what happens to a lot of the young players.”
Even their youth records in the first half of the two contrasting seasons that they made the step-up to the senior squad read nearly identically.
Pulisic scored six and set up six more in 12 appearances for Dortmund’s U19s in the 2015/16 Hinrunde, while Reyna managed four goals and seven assists from 11 games, as well as another four goals and an assist in five UEFA Youth League matches over the course of the 2019/20 equivalent.
Even in terms of style, the pair share a keen eye for goal, a stick-like-glue first touch and slaloming dribble that puts fear into opposition defenders.
Positionally, too, they both thrive across the front line of an attack. Reyna played through the middle in a friendly against Standard Liege in January, scored from the right against Feyenoord and has played - like Pulisic - from the left and as a No10 for the youth teams of the USA and Dortmund.
And BVB clearly see something exceptional in Reyna, just as they did in Pulisic before him.
“[Reyna]’s a big, big talent. I think he will do a lot for American soccer in the next five or 10 years,” Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told The Athletic. "Like Christian, he has time to develop. He needs time but he has everything a player should have."
Watzke is right, Reyna has plenty of time on his hands but considering the attacking midfielder’s rocketing emergence in recent months, his developing talent seems impatient.
He has quickly progressed from being a wide-eyed teen on the fringes of the pros to becoming one of them: Reyna was set to make his starting debut for Dortmund against Schalke on Matchday 26, only for an injury sustained in the warm-up to force him to withdraw.
That would have been his ninth Bundesliga outing and, but for the interruption caused by the coronavirus, he could well have broken more of Pulisic's records.
At 17 years 212 days, Pulisic became youngest non-German to score in the Bundesliga - a feat Reyna could actually still claim as his own if he recovers and plays over the next couple of weeks.
Reyna was also on course to oust the now Chelsea forward as the youngest USMNT player to score an international goal (17 years, 211 days), after head coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed that he was to be included in the Stars and Stripes roster for the international friendlies against the Netherlands and Wales in March.
Watch: Christian Pulisic: Made in the Bundesliga
"I think of Gio Reyna, I wish it was four years later and he was at the top of his game," Berhalter told Extratime. "That’s exciting to me, but I also realise it’s a process, I realise it takes time and what we’re doing is gathering as much information as possible to find out if they’re absolutely ready."
He also has a full year to beat Pulisic’s record as the youngest American player to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League (18 years, 171 days) and would steal the 21-year-old’s record as the youngest USA footballer to win a major European club trophy if Reyna were to pick up a league medal this season.
Yet in some regards, Reyna is already charting ahead of even Pulisic's curve. Reyna scored for Dortmund in just his fourth senior game - a long-range stunner in BVB’s 3-2 defeat to Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup - and chalked up his first assist in his seventh outing when he teed up Erling Haaland to score against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Pulisic, by comparison, did not make his Champions League debut until just four days short of his 18th birthday. His first goal and assist for the pros arrived in his seventh and 13th matches respectively. Minor differences, admittedly, but at elite level that is precisely what separates the very best from the rest.
It is also worth pausing to consider the circumstances of the players' breakthroughs. In January 2016, when Pulisic began to emerge, Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jonas Hofmann and Shinji Kagawa were the only other attacking midfielders in the squad, even if the latter two tend to play deeper and more centrally, rather than out wide. Meanwhile, Adnan Zanujaj had just returned to Manchester United early from his loan spell at BVB.
Compare that to the current team that boasts Reus, Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt, Achraf Hakimi, Raphael Guerreiro and Mario Götze - all of whom are established international players - in the attacking and wide areas. And even in light of such fierce competition, Reyna has still managed to get minutes.
Considering his rise is running parallel to, and even ahead of, Pulisic’s stunning emergence four years ago, the sky really is the limit for the England-born American.
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