Gio Reyna has emerged as one of the hottest prospects in world football, not just U.S. soccer, with the Borussia Dortmund playmaker showing that, when clear of niggling injuries, he boasts the kind of “flair” to make a global audience sit up and take notice.
The 19-year-old delivered a Diego Maradona-esque dribble during a recent 2022 World Cup qualifier against Mexico, with his creative qualities once again coming to the fore as his stock continues to rise and a legion of admirers grows.
There appears to be no limit to what the talented teenager can achieve, with the general consensus being that further potential in his game will be unlocked ahead of another high-profile step up the footballing food chain being taken at some stage in the future.
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How good can Reyna become?
When that question was put to Jay DeMerit by GOAL – who was speaking on behalf of Stake.com, the leading cryptocurrency betting platform worldwide and Watford FC's principal partner – the former USMNT defender said: “He can be as good as any American that has played in Europe. For such a young guy, he is showing that he can compete, that he can contribute.
“His free kicks and delivery is great, and not many Americans have been on those and scoring goals from midfield. That’s exciting. He is showing excitement in ways that a lot of American players haven’t.
“But that consistency piece and that injury piece now is going to be huge. If you start burning yourself out because you are trying to carry yourself through injuries as a young person, a lot of times that can catch you up.
“I think for him it will be about trying to find consistency in where you play and how you play, but also in ‘am I on the field 45 times next season?’ If the answer is yes then we have got an exciting young talent that we can really look forward to watching for years to come.”
Where will Reyna end up?
Quizzed on whether he sees Reyna making a big-money transfer to a Real Madrid or Manchester City in future windows, DeMerit said: “I do. Dortmund is such a great stepping stone for young players. You look at all the people that have come through there and the success they have had all over the world, I think he will definitely be another example of that.
“I’d love to see him in the Premier League. I think his game suits it, he’s a box-to-box player, he’s a tough tackler, he’s a slasher just like his dad [former City star Claudio] but even better because he’s more offensive.
“His dad was a holding midfielder and got around the park, was a great captain and a leader, and you can see Gio has got those traits but he’s got more flair. That’s exciting because we’re in a place now where the world likes a bit more flair. We can appreciate a [N’Golo] Kante but we want to see someone take a touch 20 yards out and smash it into the top corner, and Gio provides that!”
Will Pepi tread a similar path?
Reyna is far from being the only exciting American youngster to be plying his club trade in Germany, with Ricardo Pepi another highly-rated teenager that is looking to prove a serious point in Europe.
The 19-year-old striker has made a slow start to a spell at Bundesliga side Augsburg, with a goal account yet to be opened, but DeMerit expects the promising frontman to come good after agreeing to take on a big challenge.
He said: “You have to have patience in these type of situations. You have to remember this kid has been in Dallas with his friends and family closer and now all of sudden you move to Germany, it’s freezing, it’s minus two degrees and snowing every day, you don’t know how to speak the language but all of a sudden you are expected to be a prodigy.
“You always have to ride this ship a little bit more with young players because we forget about those other factors – just life factors or being on your own in a foreign country in the middle of winter on a team that you are still trying to get used to, with players that can hardly speak to you. That’s a hard situation to walk into for anyone.
“Having young players do that is a great challenge, and that’s why they do it. I am for it, I want those players to do it at 19 because at 23 how good will they be? Then you have got 10 good years to play well for the national team because you have learned your trade in a country that is going to teach you a lot easier and a lot faster than America.
“That’s the mindset that these young players have to create themselves – expect the hard stuff, don’t think you’re coming in and setting the world alight. You have to come in thinking you will sit on the bench and maybe score a 90th-minute winner in your 10th appearance, but that’s the one you need to springboard yourself into this new stratosphere of confidence.”
Does Pepi have the character to succeed?
Mental strength is as important as natural ability to players such as Pepi, with DeMerit of the opinion that a man who hit 15 MLS goals across two seasons prior to making a move to Germany is capable of silencing any doubters and unlocking the potential that many believe him to possess.
A man who won 25 caps for his country in his playing days added on the hurdles that Pepi has to overcome: “Confidence can be killed very quickly if you haven’t scored in 10 games, the fans are booing you and you don’t even know what they are saying because you can’t understand them.
“That starts to eat so he has got to be patient, work his ass off every day, be humble and take his opportunities when they come. They aren’t going to come often, because there are other good players there, you aren’t the best player on your team anymore and the young prodigy that everyone looks at. Now you are just a player on a team that is 19 years old and has to contribute because that is why you got bought. You have to go and do that.
“That does test someone’s confidence, their resolve, but I would encourage him to keep putting himself in that uncomfortable zone because you are going to learn something. Now if he comes back and starts playing well for the national team, he is going to take that confidence back to Augsburg.
“I love getting that experience at a young age because it is going to help him and if he stays injury free, he will get opportunities. That’s all he needs because he’s a really good player.”