After years of competition filled with failed World Cup qualifying attempts and overall stagnancy, the United States Men’s National Team has someone to be excited about: 17-year-old American footballer Giovanni Reyna.
In the past two months, Reyna has gone from a fringe player to a dangerous attacking asset at the German club Borussia Dortmund. He is earning major minutes and taking the Bundesliga and the Champions League by storm. His rise poses an exciting prospect for the future of U.S. Soccer, as he is expected to help transform the national team over the next two World Cup cycles.
Reyna’s spectacular debut into international soccer was preceded by a youth career in the U.S. Development Academy. After a strong showing with the NYC FC U18s, Reyna arrived at Dortmund Academy in 2019 and played for the club’s U19 team in the 2017-18 season. He quickly showed he could compete at a higher level and was subsequently promoted to the senior squad. Since his Jan. 18 debut, he has earned 11 caps, two being in the Champions League round of 16. In the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, Reyna made the game-winning assist with a 2-1 win, which solidified his status as a top-level player.
For the 2020 season, fans forecasted Reyna as another rotation player. Instead, he has started in all five of Dortmund’s games thus far. As the second-highest club scorer, he currently leads the league with assists and is a key reason for Dortmund’s current rank as third in German Bundesliga. He has proved to be an adaptable player for coach Lucien Favre in the left forward spot.
When asked by Bundesliga reporters about Reyna, Favre remarked, “In training you can see that he has something special. If you can’t see that, you’re blind.”
A notable component in Reyna’s success at Dortmund is his chemistry with prolific goalscorer Erling Haaland.
In an interview with ESPN, Reyna has said Haaland has been “like a big brother, [which] almost makes me feel like I’m at home a little bit.”
To see this chemistry, one only needs to look at the show the pair put on in an early October 4-0 win against Freiburg. In the match, Reyna practically handed Haaland a hat trick with his three assists, one of which was off a corner kick.
The fact that Reyna is taking set pieces for one of the best teams in Germany should strike you as impressive. It does in Europe, with the excitement building in the international soccer world. German spectators are dizzied by his youth.
In a post-game analysis, Bundesliga commentators were keen to point out “just how young he was because he doesn’t even have his driver’s license.”
What makes Reyna’s success so remarkable is its occurrence during such a tumultuous time. He is tackling a number of hurdles — homesickness, performance pressure — all during the COVID-19 pandemic and at just 17 years old. When Reyna’s parents dropped him off at the airport over the summer, they could not promise they would see him soon because of COVID-19 international travel restrictions. To go play overseas as a teenager, all the while not knowing when he would see his family again, reveals his maturity and emotional strength.
Notwithstanding the global circumstances, the situation for Reyna is perfect. Borussia Dortmund is both a German powerhouse and a club renowned for its instruction. Their willingness to give minutes to new players results in the development of young players like Reyna, who may not be at the club for much longer. Sources have confirmed with ESPN that Real Madrid is “actively monitoring and [watching] how he develops for club and country.” For Madrid, his potential as a player and marketable USMNT star in waiting puts him on their radar.
Reyna’s quick ascension mirrors that of fellow American Christian Pulisic, who also became a breakout star for Borussia Dortmund at age 17. Pulisic has since captured a myriad of “youngest player” records. He is Dortmund’s youngest player to score in the Champions League, the youngest player to captain the USMNT, and the youngest hat-trick scorer at his current club Chelsea, to name a few. In his 34 appearances with the USMNT, he has 14 goals and nine assists. Pulisic, along with the rest of the world, has taken note of Reyna’s success.
The attacking midfielder told CBS Sports, “We’re all excited to have him on the national team. I think for Gio, really, the sky’s the limit. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
If Reyna is poised to follow in Pulisic’s footsteps, then the USMNT stands to gain the most from his skill. And they need it: while the team had a promising 2019 showing with wins against Canada and Cuba, the program is still finding its footing. Coach Gregg Berhalter was tasked with rebuilding the team after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and his job was made easier by new talent. Although he may be leading the frenzy, Reyna isn’t the only American on a Champions League Roster. There are 10 players, eight of whom are under the age of 23, which gives Berhalter a deep pool of young and fresh talent.
In an interview with ESPN, Berhalter commented, “A mark of any country’s potential success is directly related to the amount of players they have competing in the Champions League.”
With more players at big clubs than ever before, the USMNT should be more competitive internationally. The question is: will it translate into success? Or will we be relegated to watch the 2022 World Cup without a team? I refuse to accept the latter premise; instead, I am expecting a young, hungry U.S. team. By 2022, Giovanni Reyna will be lighting it up against the Messi’s and Mbappe’s of soccer, and I can think of nothing more patriotic.
Demi Pappas is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Between the Goalposts appears online every other week.