COLOGNE, Germany — If you had monitored Gio Reyna’s status in Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga match Saturday strictly by the time of his entrance and exit, alarm bells surely would have gone off.
Uh oh. Not again.
For more than a year, every time the artful attacker seemed to turn the corner, muscular injuries stalled his can’t-miss career — a career that had rocketed out of the shadows of his father, Hall of Famer Claudio Reyna, and reached the global scene.
Immensely talented, yes. But durable?
With the World Cup fast approaching, any hard fall, sign of discomfort or unexpected absence has raised concerns in Dortmund and for the U.S. national team. And so Saturday, the box score showed Reyna entering in the 32nd minute and leaving before the end of Dortmund’s 1-0 victory over Schalke.
The substitution was not, however, because of injury but rather was part of his club’s carefully curated plan — much to U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter’s approval — of managing his minutes.
Reyna, 19, was fine. In fact, he was better than fine, contributing to the buildup of Youssoufa Moukoko’s 78th-minute goal. Two days before U.S. training camp opened, the audience at Dortmund’s madhouse, Signal Iduna Park, included Berhalter and more than two dozen U.S. staffers.
“They were all the way up there” behind the north goal, Reyna said during an interview at the U.S. team hotel Monday. “If they would have asked me before, I would have gotten them better tickets.”
The group, he added, “couldn’t have come to a better game.”
It was a reference to the match itself, the Ruhr region rumble known as the Revierderby, but also could have applied to what the delegation witnessed from him.
After missing most of Dortmund’s 2021-22 season and the bulk of the U.S. World Cup campaign, Reyna is getting closer to full-time work. He has made four Bundesliga appearances as a substitute, recorded two assists in a sub’s role against FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League and started against Manchester City in that continental competition last week.
He is expected to see some action in the last two U.S. tuneups for the World Cup: vs. Japan on Friday in Düsseldorf, Germany, and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 27 in Murcia, Spain.
Barring major setbacks over the next seven weeks — and that’s always a concern with him — Reyna is almost certain of making the 26-man roster heading to Qatar.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m still a little bit letting things come with time. It will come. I’m pretty close to being where I want to be.”
The recurring setbacks presented as many mental challenges as physical tests.
“I’ve gotten stronger through all of it,” Reyna said. “It wasn’t just the physical aspects. I worked a lot on everything over the summer and through the rehab process.”
His U.S. teammates say they have noticed a happier and more confident player.
“When [the injuries] keep happening and happening, we were all heartbroken for him,” winger Brenden Aaronson said. “I was sending him messages, telling him to keep going. To see his mentality now and to see him pushing through it, I think it only has made his character stronger.”
Reyna had been on the fast track since he was 17, when he became the youngest American to appear in a Bundesliga match, breaking Christian Pulisic’s record by about two months. In 2020-21, he made 30 starts, including four in the Champions League, and scored seven goals across all competitions.
The following season was interrupted early by a hamstring injury suffered in the World Cup qualifying opener in El Salvador. Multiple setbacks prolonged his absence.
This season, Dortmund has executed a deliberate plan, careful not to rush him back. Late last month, as a last-minute precaution after Reyna said he didn’t feel quite right, the club held him out of a match against Hertha Berlin.
“It doesn’t make sense to risk the next setback,” Coach Edin Terzic said after the Aug. 27 game. “We’ll continue to build him up cautiously in the hope that he’ll bounce back to full capacity. We must learn from the past. We’d rather go without him for one or two matches than go without him for months.”
Reyna praised the club’s cautious approach, though he said he is “very eager to play every game 90 minutes.”
“Of course, it’s not possible now,” he added. “I’m working on it. I’m not far away.”
Consecutive appearances totaling 114 minutes over five days last week was “a good sign,” he said.
Following Reyna’s influential performance against Copenhagen two weeks ago, Terzic shared Dortmund’s happiness about Reyna.
“One could see the joy” in Reyna’s game, he said. “It’s incredibly good how he accelerates the game and brings his creativity.”
The next step for Reyna is ramping up his playing time with Dortmund and staying injury-free before the World Cup, which would be his first in soccer’s spectacle following his father’s appearance on four U.S. rosters between 1994 and 2006.
The younger Reyna remembers growing up in suburban New York and going through his father’s “big bag of jerseys” that he had acquired via Premier League postgame swaps. The collection includes Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney.
Gio Reyna’s most prized jersey is from French superstar Kylian Mbappé, secured after a Champions League round-of-16 game in 2020.
“It was with no fans, so it was pretty easy to talk to people,” he explained. “Our teams got into a fight. I was playing right wing, and he was left wing. We were on the other side from the fight. We didn’t really run over and get involved. So I just asked him during the fight, ‘Hey, can I have your shirt later?’ He said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ”