When it comes to American soccer, Christian Pulisic truly broke the mould. Before the current Chelsea star exploded onto the scene at Borussia Dortmund, no American had made that kind of impact at such a big club, at such a young age.
But, before Pulisic, there was a generation of Americans that set a tone. Prior to the 1994 World Cup, American soccer was the afterthought of an afterthought, but that moment and that tournament became a spark. By 2002, that spark had developed into something bigger and, with a quarter-final run in that summer's World Cup in South Korea and Japan, American soccer finally achieved something notable: respectability.
The leader of that 2002 team, Claudio Reyna, became one of American soccer's pioneers in Europe, developing a reputation as one of the best players, and leaders, the USMNT has ever seen. Now, his son, like Pulisic before him, has been deemed as the next young star to set Borussia Dortmund, and the Bundesliga, alight.
Giovanni Reyna is just 16 years old, but the young midfielder has been in the public eye for years. He became American soccer's next starlet just as Pulisic was making the leap from prospect to star.
He frequently stood out despite playing with players several years older, emerging as the brightest talent to come from a U.S. youth program that has grown exponentially in recent years. He earned a sponsorship deal from adidas before he had even featured in a senior match and, eventually, earned a move to Dortmund as he looks to begin his professional career in Europe.
"He has the whole package when you talk about the offensive part of his game," former Switzerland international and current U.S. Under-17s boss Raphael Wicky told Goal . "That makes him a very interesting prospect because he can change a game. Those players are the ones everyone is looking for and those players are guys who bring people to stadiums, right? The Pulisics, the [Xherdan] Shaqiris, these guys. He has that talent to do that, but if we talk about his offensive game, but there’s still a long way to go."
He added: "The first thing I noticed was that his technique is outstanding, which is always the base that makes everything look easy. He’s very elegant."
The son of a USMNT legend, Reyna was always going to be brought up in and around the game. His father appeared at three World Cups, after all, forging a playing career with the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City that earned him the nickname 'Captain America'. After that career concluded, he was named sporting director of MLS expansion side New York City FC, where he was charged with building a team that eventually featured David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.
As part of that role, the elder Reyna was also tasked with developing a youth program from scratch, and it was his own son that rapidly developed as the brightest prospect. At age 14, Reyna helped NYCFC win the Generation Adidas Cup, an U17 tournament, earning the competition's Golden Ball (pictured above, right) . He also found himself training with NYCFC's first team at just 15, learning from then boss Patrick Vieira.
Instead of signing with NYCFC, though, Reyna made the decision to head to Germany at age 16, benefitting from a Portuguese passport secured through his father's side of the family. His talents, though, led Vieira - now the manager of French side Nice - to compare Reyna with one of his former France team-mates.
“The thing I like about him is that he has an eye for the goal, he’s a goalscorer,” said Vieira, according to SBI Soccer . “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but he reminds me a little of David Trezeguet.”
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Wicky, meanwhile, says he is not fully sure what position Reyna will grow into and the former Bundesliga midfielder says the 16-year-old is in no rush to determine one. Under Wicky, Reyna featured centrally to start CONCACAF's U17 World Cup qualifying tournament before eventually moving to the left, where he served as an inverted winger who cut inside to help ignite the U.S. attack.
But Wicky will not limit him to those two spots. While he does not see Reyna as a true striker, the coach does believe he could someday be a false nine. He is also comfortable as a No.10 or even as a No.8 in a 4-3-3. In that way, he could someday play similarly to his father.
With Pulisic now at Chelsea, Reyna is one of several Americans leading the next generation of young players to head to Germany. Schalke star Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams are already there, but it's Reyna who could be the next player to truly break into that world-class discussion.
“We have a lot of players who are well known in the U.S.,” Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told The Athletic . “OK, Christian is the captain of the national team. That’s clear. But first, we have a very interesting young player: Giovanni Reyna. He’s a big, big talent. I think he will do a lot for American football in the next five or 10 years.
"It’s the same way like Christian," he continued. "He has time to develop. He needs time. But he has everything a player should have. It’s not so easy to look into the future and see how a player will develop in the next two or three years. But he has everything you must have."
The next step will be breaking through. Reyna is set to feature for the club's U19 team this season with the aim of reaching first-team level in the months and years ahead. He already earned a taste of that action this summer as he featured for Dortmund in four pre-season friendlies, including a start against Champions League winners Liverpool. On Wednesday, he was named in Lucien Favre's European squad for the first half of the season, thus illustrating the value that is being placed on him at his new club.
He will also likely serve as captain once again for the U.S. U17s at this year's World Cup. With Wicky, the word that keeps coming up is "game-changer" and, if Reyna continues on the path that has been laid out to him since birth, he could be the next American prospect to truly change the game, much like his father before him.