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Gio Reyna: The Prince who was Promised?

On May 19th, 2019 the penultimate episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ aired, drawing a close to one of the most harrowing, entertaining, and shocking TV series spectacles. The show was a rollercoaster of emotions and is possibly the last collective TV experience to air weekly. Be warned there are spoiler ahead if you have not yet watched the series Game of Thrones. One of the main plot lines running through the show was the question, “Who is the prince who was promised?”. This was a prophecy foretelling the ‘Messianic’ figure that would deliver the world from darkness. This question plagued fans of this world for 20 years until they finally got their answer in season eight episode one. Jon Snow was revealed to be Aegon Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and the living embodiment of the song of ice and fire. The same search for a once in a generation talent has plagued US Soccer for the last 30 years. We currently have an extremely young and talented group of players growing into their primes. Over the years there have been different figures to pick up the torch and offer some light, but it's clear now who the long-awaited chosen one is. The living embodiment of our song of ice and fire is Giovanni Reyna.


Gio from a young age was exposed to the top level of Futbal, through his dad Claudio. They spent time living in Germany, England, Scotland, and later the US. Gio was able to see the day-to-day of what it takes to be successful all across the world at the top levels of football. It’s a simple thought but if you are exposed to the top level of any pursuit in life at such an early age, and the right combination of passion along with talent exists, it’s a proven recipe for developing an elite skill set. The same could be said for Jon Snow. He was raised as the orphan son of the ‘King of the North’. Because of access to elite training, Jon was able to build a skillset as a warrior that became renowned in the 7 kingdoms. If you watch the 20 year old play there’s two things that are instantly clear: his creativity and vision belong amongst the elites of the sport. The potential to be one of the most devastating attackers in the world is somewhere inside Gio but seeing this actualized on the pitch is ultimately another conversation. The rare ability to be a constant threat to a defense sets the best attacking players apart. The duality of having the ability to create for yourself, but also the vision to create for others, is a nightmare for opposition teams. One of the best examples of this is Kevin De Bruyne. Every time he’s on the ball there is an instant threat to the other team's goal, and to a lesser degree Gio does the same thing.


Gio’s young career has already been full of struggles, injuries, match winners, off field drama, and momentary flashes of greatness. With this all in mind, Gio is at a strange part of his career. He had injuries last year that kept him sidelined for a good portion of the season, but came back at the end of the year to be a super sub that had two match winners (should’ve been three) that played a crucial role in the title race for Germany. This was right after he was barely used at the 2022 World Cup, which led to a very public fallout between his family and the US manager Gregg Berhalter. The whole situation is extremely complicated but the biggest issue is that we still don’t have concrete answers about how Gio and Berhalter will handle their relationship going forward. This past summer the US played in the CONCACAF nations league semi-final v. Mexico, and in the final v. Canada. The US was coached by interim coach BJ Callaghan, and Gio was unlocked. He was able to play a free flowing 10 role through the middle with Yunus Musah and Weston Mckennie playing behind him. This gave him the reins to do what he does best, and what the US needs, which is to be an expansive creative spark. He put in a crucial 75 minute shift that led to a 3-0 win where Mexico was demoralized and deteriorated mentally which resulted in some US players being dragged down in their wake. There was a sequence in the 2nd half where Reyna skipped around 3 Mexican defenders, a direct ode to his dazzling run at the Azteca in WCQ a couple years ago. This was a solid performance that primed him for arguably his best performance in US colors. In the Nations League Final Gio was limited to 45 minutes because of an errant tackle at the end of the half but in one half he was able to provide 2 assists, create 3 chances, and was dominant as the creative fulcrum of the US attack. This errant tackle near the end of the half led to a hairline fracture in his right leg that kept him from breaking into Dortmund’s squad until October 7th. It was first reported as a calf injury, it came out months later that it was much more serious. Preceding the October international break Gio Reyna has made one solitary professional appearance for Dortmund this season but has still been called into October camp for the friendlies against Germany and Ghana.

At this current moment in his professional career Gio is serving his time in the unforgiving cold and darkness of the North. Similar to Jon Snow in the opening episode of season six, Gio is currently laying on a wooden table waiting for his career to breathe back to life. The good news is that he doesn't need a deranged fire witch to resuscitate him. The simple solution is health, and possibly a change of scenery at the club level. He’s only ever played professional futbal for Dortmund and it’s rather clear at this point that Dortmund's coach, Edin Terzic, doesn’t rate him. It could be argued that in many ways he’s following Christian Pulisic’s Dortmund path. They both got early debuts (Reyna at 17 years old broke Pulisics record of being the youngest American to play in the Bundeslegia), and established themselves as valuable members of ‘Die Borussen’. Both players contributed to title pushes and made big appearances in champions league matches while donning the yellow and black. A couple years down the road they both ran into injury problems and lost favor to other attackers. At this point it would be best for Dortmund and Reyna to call it quits. Both have gotten a lot out of this relationship, but there comes a certain time when it’s better for all parties to go in separate directions.

There’s a couple intriguing landing spots for ‘The Prince who was Promised’. There is speculation of Reyna joining the Italian side AC Milan. On face value this is an upward move in club status, AC Milan is easily one of the biggest clubs in the world and watching this AC Milan team you can see a gap in ability to create from central positions. They currently do not have a suitable 10 that allows for ball distribution to their elite wingers and strikers. Gio would fit perfectly into the creative figurehead of the Milan midfield. There also is that little fact that Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah are currently integrating themselves as viable members of this year's iteration of AC Milan. We saw the downside of having three Americans on one club team with the failed United States of Leeds experiment last season. Having so many Americans on one team is a risky proposition, but there also is an immense amount of upside. From a USMNT fan perspective it is essentially a cheat code to build chemistry for the national team. The idea of these three learning more about each other and building a solid foundation for one of the best clubs in the world is immensely exciting.


The next option for Giovanni is a more complicated and higher risk situation, but our favored landing spot for him. It’s a small little coastal town on the south coast of England, Brighton. The club has been in the ascension over the past three seasons, while being one of the best developers of talent in Europe. They had their highest ever Premier League finish (6th) under new manager Roberto De Zerbi and he has Brighton playing an expansive attacking brand of futbal that is altering both the hierarchy and tactics equipped by Premier League clubs. There’s no doubt that Gio would be facing stiff competition for a starting spot as Brighton have some of the best young attackers in the world. This goes to show just how highly we rate him. There wouldn’t be a better manager for him to learn from than De Zerbi. The physical nature of the Premier league is the biggest impediment blocking this decision as his injury history would create big question marks about his ability to make it through a full season. In saying all of this, if Gio could lock down a starting spot in Brighton, he would have the ability to pick any club in the world for his next landing spot.


There is a thin line between being a competitor and letting that rule how you conduct yourself within a team. A discussion around Gio Reyna is incomplete without mentioning the occurrences of bad body language, reported lack of effort at the World Cup, a hit and miss desire to get back and help defend/press, and distractions off the field. The first two can be chalked up to being a young competitive athlete. He has a certain level of expectation and doesn’t always leverage that the right way, but we saw this past summer in Nations League that with the right mentality all of these can easily be changed. He played his role perfectly while also contributing in both the press and tracking back for his defensive assignments. The body language was light years different. He looked calm and assertive without the dismissive attitude. The off field situation has been litigated and discussed non-stop since the World Cup. The only thing that needs to be said is that Gio has been called into October camp and the road to building a new and better relationship is actively underway.

We need to remember that sometimes it’s hard to carry the weight and expectation put on these young athletes. Pulling off a professional career at the top level requires a high amount of luck, fortuitous health, and finding the correct fit at club level. This can all change very fast. Gio Reyna’s career has already been a stormy affair, and he’s only 20 years old. Like the character arc of Jon Snow, there is still so much room for growth.With the injuries in check, the clouds will part and the sun will shine again on this young prodigy. The elite combination of pure talent and competitive nature is clearly evident. What we believe Gio needs is consistent club minutes in a top 5 league, with a manager that backs him. Living up to the label of ‘The Prince who was Promised’ is a large proposition, but the skill and talent is there. In order for him to reach his highest potential we need to allow Gio the time and space to be himself. At the end of the day Gio could be ‘The Prince who was Promised’, or he could not be ‘The Prince who was Promised’. All we can hope for is the best version of Giovanni Reyna.


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