Just 21 years old, U.S. national team prospect Joe Gyau needed a fresh start in Europe. Bundesliga club Hoffenheim had lost interest in him last season, disrupting a career arc that began with soaring expectations after he left Silver Spring, Md., for Germany in 2011.
Typically, a young player adrift has to settle for a club of lesser status. In Gyau’s case, he moved up to Borussia Dortmund, an eight-time Bundesliga champion and 2013 UEFA Champions League finalist.
“It has been a breath of fresh air to get a new club, where they are genuinely behind me and genuinely believe in me,” he said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I’m trying to pay them back for showing faith in me.”
Gyau, a swift winger who followed an non-traditional American career path, is not ready for Dortmund’s first team. He is a member of BVB’s under-23 squad, which competes in the third tier of German soccer.
In last weekend’s opener, Gyau played all 90 minutes of a 2-1 victory at Rot-Weiss Erfurt and is likely to retain a starting role Saturday at home against Holstein Keil. The second team plays home matches at Stadion Rote Erde, located in the shadows of Dortmund’s famed Signal Iduna Park.
While Gyau will play primarily for the U-23s, Dortmund Coach Juergen Klopp might summon him to the first team at times this season. Aside from league and domestic cup action, the club qualified for the Champions League by finishing second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last season.
Gyau is not the only American from the Washington area at Dortmund: Manassas-raised midfielder Junior Flores, 18, will compete for playing time with the U-19 and U-23 squads. Flores committed to Dortmund almost two years ago.
Gyau’s move to Dortmund was in the works since last winter when the relationship with Hoffenheim deteriorated. Behind the scenes, his representatives and family worked to find a new destination. The transfer, estimated at $160,000, was consummated this summer. Gyau signed a two-year contract. Dortmund would have to pay additional funds to Hoffenheim if Gyau becomes a first-team regular.
He couldn’t wait to make the move.
“I was pretty down on the situation,” he said of Hoffenheim.
At one point, he said he was notified by text — not in person or by phone — that he would not train with Hoffenheim’s first team and would play with the club’s second unit in the fourth division. “Getting out of there was good for me,” he said.
Gyau scored seven goals in 27 league matches for Hoffenheim’s secondary squad last season before making two late-season Bundesliga appearances. In 2012-13, he was on loan with St. Pauli in the second division and made 15 appearances.
At Dortmund, one of Germany’s most decorated organizations, he will face greater competition for playing time.
Nonetheless, “I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as a bigger opportunity,” said Gyau, who turns 22 next month. “There are a lot of quality players but if I keep doing well, I can hopefully make an impact and get to the first team.”
Gyau trained with the first team during preseason camp in Austria, exhibiting his fast pace and ability to beat players on the flanks. To take the next step, Klopp and second-team coach David Wagner have emphasized the importance of him getting into space with the ball and both creating and finishing scoring opportunities. In last weekend’s opener, he started on the right wing before rotating to the left and floating into the middle.
Wagner is a German-American who made eight U.S. national team appearances under Steve Sampson from 1996 to ’98. Before joining Dortmund, Wagner was a youth coach at Hoffenheim when Gyau first arrived.
How Gyau performs at Dortmund will go a long way toward setting his course with the national team. U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann summoned him to one camp, in November 2012 before a friendly in Russia; Gyau didn’t play. And as will do with several players at the start of a new World Cup cycle, Klinsmann will keep close tabs on Gyau’s latest assignment. The U.S. squad will play several friendlies this fall, including trips to the Czech Republic and Ireland.
Gyau is the son of former U.S. international Phillip Gyau, the new head coach at Howard University in Washington, and grandson of former Ghanaian star Joseph “Nana” Gyau, an NASL forward in the 1960s and ’70s.
The soccer gene also reached Gyau’s younger sister, Mia, a U.S. youth national team player entering her junior year at Bullis School in Maryland. She has already committed to Duke University. At the moment, though, she is in Germany for informal workouts with women’s clubs. Duisburg and Bayern Munich are among the possibilities, Phillip said.
Both Mia and their mother, Amina, are staying with Joe in Dortmund.
“It’s great to see some familiar faces,” he said, laughing, “and show them my new place.”