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What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Gio Reyna

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 27: Giovanni Reyna #11 of the United States moves towards the box during a FIFA World Cup qualifier game between Panama and USMNT at Exploria Stadium on March 27, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
John Todd/Getty Images

Welcome to What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal, a regular series in which Defector selects a name from the myriad number of exciting young American soccer men playing in Europe and answers the question: What is this USMNT guy’s deal?

Though this series has covered the United States men’s national team’s most prominent player, its most tactically pivotal player, its Realest Hooper, and many other important players, it has not yet tackled the team’s actual coolest player. The time has come to do so. It is time to answer: What is Giovanni Reyna’s deal?

Who Does He Play For?

It feels like Reyna has been at Borussia Dortmund forever, though this is probably because he made his first team debut for BVB only months after Christian Pulisic left town for Chelsea. BVB is famous for being probably the preeminent launchpad for young gunners to strut their stuff for a season or two, rack up an impressive string of performances against German and European competition, then get sold to one of the Manchester clubs for like €70 million. Reyna has played alongside Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, and if he had never suffered the startling list of injuries he had, the odds are pretty high that he would have already joined Sancho, Haaland, Pulisic, and Ousmane Dembélé in leaving Dortmund for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

As it stands, he’s been hurt a lot, though when he has played, Reyna has been outstanding. He is correctly considered to be one of the best midfield prospects in Europe, and his ascendancy to that status was so smooth it almost felt preordained. Reyna is the son of former USMNT legend Claudio Reyna, and he’s named after his dad’s former teammate and current Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst. As he was born in the UK while his father was still at the peak of his playing career, Reyna attracted attention from a hilarious number of national teams, though he’s been a fixture of the U.S. youth setup since he started playing soccer (this is not exactly right, since he’s still a teenager and was so good at such a young age that he topped out with the U-17s before sliding up to the first team.) Reyna joined BVB from the NYCFC academy the same summer Pulisic went to Chelsea, and he began scoring and assisting goals pretty much as soon as he started playing. There he was, at 17, scoring a banger against Bremen in the DFB Pokal or assisting Haaland against PSG in the Champions League knockout round.

Reyna and Pulisic are very different players, and Pulisic probably had more obvious success at Dortmund because of his more advanced role, yet the parallels are also quite strong. Reyna’s run at Dortmund has seen him surpass—youngest American to record an assist in the Champions League, youngest player ever to notch 50 Bundesliga appearances—or nearly equal—second-youngest American goalscorer and brace-getter in the Bundesliga—a slate of Pulisic feats, and he’s clearly headed for bigger and better things at some point soon (the City Football Group links are obvious.)

The Weston McKennie Mamma Mia Test

The Weston McKennie Mamma Mia Test refers to the following foolproof heuristic for determining whether or not a U.S. player is actually good or just good by our rosy American standards: Do fans tweet lovingly about them in their local language?

How Does He Play?

Reyna is a midfielder’s midfielder. He’s good at everything. His best-ever highlight (see below) is one of the purest runs you will ever see anyone perform in a U.S. shirt, and he did it while still in the throes of an injury. Most of these How Does He Play? sections highlight a players’ strengths and then note that they have a pretty serious swing skill they need to improve upon to hit their ceilings (passing for Weston McKennie, defending for Sergiño Dest, etc.) but there’s not really any serious nits I can pick with Reyna’s game. As a technician, he’s superb. He takes a bunch of the corners and free kicks for Dortmund and he is clearly comfortable operating tight spaces. He racks up a million assists and if there’s any real knock on him it’s that his goalscoring record isn’t super nutty. That’s fine, he shared the field with Erling Haaland for years.

There’s a pleasant calmness to his game. Reyna never appears rushed when he’s on the ball, even when he’s under pressure or when he’s zipping past defenders. When Reyna is at his best, it’s obvious that he sees the game at a different level than most of the guys around him. His passing is probably the best part of his game, though my favorite part is his ball-carrying ability (again, see below). Reyna is a big dude, which makes him even harder to dislodge the ball from his feet.

The swing factor for Reyna is not a matter of skill, but rather one of health. Reyna only made 13 appearances for Dortmund last season as he battled through hamstring injuries. Like Pulisic, he gets fouled a lot, which comes with being so good at dribbling past defenders. Though he’s already missed time this season dealing with the aftereffects of an injury he suffered at the end of last season, he’s managed to make nine appearances so far this campaign, and Dortmund’s coaching staff has clearly opted to try to bring him along gradually to play it safe. He’s been stellar as a super-sub this season, most notably when he came on early against Copenhagen in the Champions League and assisted twice in the 3–0 win.

Wonderteen Index

The Wonderteen Index is a holistic, objective metric that analyzes a player’s full array of skills and talents, distilling it all into a single number that corresponds to their ultimate potential and the likelihood that they will assume the title of Wonderteen.

Reyna turns 20 right before the World Cup, does cool shit all the time, and is a funny, personable guy, so he gets 100 out of 100.

As much as we’ve gassed him up here, Reyna is not a perfect player. Though his highs are super-duper-mega high, he has only one truly great season under his belt. Dortmund is both a perfect place for him to develop and work on stuff, and while it’s good that he’s at a club that is so clearly invested in doing things the right way, he will not be there forever. While we have seen Reyna star in the Champions League, against some of the best teams in the world, there is something different and more difficult about being a critical part of one of those teams rather than doing cool stuff against them. Dortmund is a huge, fantastic club, but it’s not, say, Liverpool. Can Reyna do his thing week after week under immense scrutiny and physical pressure? I’d bet on it, even if we don’t know for sure.

Can He Play Right Back?

The U.S.’s European corps is absolutely silly with right backs, enough to stock a full XI. And so it is important to determine whether or not the USMNT guy of the week can play the position.

Reyna has never, ever played any defensive positions, not even defensive midfielder. He’s too good. Does that mean he can’t play right back if called upon? No, obviously not. He is, however, best friends with Joe Scally, who plays right back. Surely Scally taught him how to play the position, so the answer is yes.

Show To Me A Cool Highlight

Okay here it is!!!

How Does He Fit In With The U.S. Team?

Because Reyna was absent for so much of the qualifying process, and because the USMNT plays a weird 4-3-3 that prioritizes wing play and midfielders who like to fight, Reyna’s preferred position—a hybrid 8/10 role—is not exactly available to him. That shouldn’t keep him from the field, and it doesn’t matter to me that Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson are more “natural” wingers—Reyna is so good that he simply has to be on the field in the biggest moments. He can play on either wing in the Berhalterian 4-3-3 since they tuck in so often, and he can also comfortably take McKennie’s spot in the midfield since he can eat up space so well.

How Close Is He To The Hypothetical Best XI?

If he doesn’t start, I’m going to become a Brazil fan.

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