The year 2020 hasn't been for everyone, but it's certainly Gio Reyna's favourite of his 18 so far. Having debuted in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund in its first month, Reyna made his maiden senior international outing for the USA and secured his future in Germany 10 months on.
Days after turning 18 on 13 November 2020, Reyna has been rewarded for the year of his dreams with a bumper new contract at BVB running until 2025.. bundesliga.com explains why the fleet-footed playmaker deserves it…
Watch: Haaland and Reyna - Analysis of Dortmund's dream duo
Haaland, who burst onto the Bundesliga scene on the same day as Reyna back on a cold January afternoon in Augsburg, might be Reyna's biggest fan. And while Dortmund's No.9 has continuously stolen the headlines in the months that have followed, Reyna has quietly continued to live the American dream in Germany.
"We've been keeping tabs on Gio for a long time - you're blind if you don't see his qualities," said head coach Lucien Favre earlier in the year. Reyna quickly made it impossible to miss his talents. In his first 137 minutes of life in black and yellow, he both scored a wonder-goal against Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup and provided an assist in the UEFA Champions League for Haaland against Paris-Saint Germain.
"He was in the USA with the team [on the pre-season tour] and before that, he had trained with the side several times," said the 62-year-old tactician, outlining the foundations that were laid for Reyna to thrive. "He'd trained with them a few times about 18 months ago, too. In the US he played against Liverpool and also against the Seattle Sounders.
"In training, you can see that he has something special. 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. He defends very cleverly too. That's not easy to do at the age of 17, but he already does it well. He can score goals and play the final ball."
Favre's confidence in the teenager has been clear from his first steps with the senior squad since his 2019 summer arrival in Dortmund, and that faith has been fully vidicated at the start of 2020/21.
Reyna made 15 appearances last season, of which 13 came as a substitute, as you would expect from a 17-year-old. But the son of former Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and US midfielder Claudio Reyna outlined his desires to kick on during the summer, and quickly established his place in the first team in the new season.
"Even towards the end of the year, I wasn't fully like out of my shell," Reyna told Sports Illustrated. "But this season, coming back, I think a lot will change. Against Leipzig, I think you can see a little bit of it - that I was ready to play. I think now this season, I want to make a really big jump."
He's already delivering on his promise. Reyna has started six of Dortmund's first seven league games of the campaign, and leads the club's provision charts with three - which all came in one game against Freiburg, making him the youngest player in Bundesliga history to notch an assist hat-trick. He also scored his first Bundesliga goal for Die Schwarzgelben on the opening weekend against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In fact, Reyna has played the most minutes of Dortmund's attacking line behind lone striker Haaland - ahead of Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard, despite being the youngest of the crop.
As well as playing more often than his direct rivals for a starting berth, Reyna has been involved in more goal sequences in the Bundesliga than any of his teammates. Training with the best appears to be helping the England-born teenager shine.
"I think Gio is a great player, I feel like he's going to be one of the next best players here at Dortmund," Sancho recently told bundesliga.com last season. "I'm just happy to see him play, and play with him every week, and I'm just excited for what happens next."
Reyna catches the eye with his quick feet, eye for a pass and slick ability to dribble through defences - the 18-year-old has attempted and completed more dribbles than the likes of Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig) and Marcus Thuram (Gladbach) - but what may have gone unnoticed by those not in the Dortmund analysis team is his hard work and desire to battle against the big boys in the Bundesliga, despite being one of the league’s youngest regular starters.
Reyna has contested and won the most challenges of his fellow attacking midfielders at the Signal Iduna Park, while he ranks as the most-fouled attacking player in the league who has played over 300 minutes. The American's been illegally impeded 19 times, with Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku closest on 15.
Those attributes earn respect both from the opposition being forced to bring him down having been unable to keep up, and his teammates who have helped him up every time he's been taken down. Reyna is already a loved member of the BVB squad, as Haaland attested to, and seen as a present and future star.
It's already the same story internationally. Reyna made his debut for the USMNT on his final day as a 17-year-old and scored his first goal for his country, with US coach Gregg Berhalter deploying him in November friendlies against Wales and Panama. It's the start of what he expects to be a long international career for the New York City FC youth product.
Watch: Dortmund's Reyna: like father and mother, like son
"Dortmund did a great job of integrating him into the group in a calculated way to help him perform at high levels," former Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich defender Berhalter explained. "How do we challenge him? How do we put him in a difficult environment to help him grow as a player? He's one of those players who will keep rising to the challenge and we need to provide him with that."
While the challenges keep coming thick and fast, Reyna proceeds to knock them out of the park. Unsurprisingly, the USMNT and Dortmund hierarchies only expect his exponential rise to continue apace.
"Our coach, Lucien Favre, and I agree that he has a big future ahead of him," Zorc told media of Reyna during the off-season. "I believe that Gio is aware of the development he has taken here. First, in the academy and then under Lucien. It's an absolute success story and we want to keep writing it."