Gio Reyna credited Christian Pulisic for paving the way for him at Borussia Dortmund, adding that the current Chelsea star made young Americans believe they could make it at Europe's biggest clubs.
Reyna broke through with Dortmund's first team in January before scoring a stunning goal against Werder Bremen in the DFB-Pokal to mark his spot in the first team.
He's played a total of 11 senior matches so far, including a substitute appearance against Paris Saint-Germain that saw him notch an assist while becoming the third-youngest player ever to appear in a knockout game in the Champions League.
The teenager's rise with Dortmund has seen him compared with Pulisic, who broke through with Dortmund before making his big-money move to Chelsea last summer.
“He didn’t just open the doors for me but for everyone [in the U.S.],” Reyna told the Athletic. “Because of him, young (U.S.) players have come to Europe to big clubs, looking to take the next steps in their career. He’s the one who has really made that possible. He made us believe we could do this.”
He added: “The most important thing I talked about with my father and my agent was my need to play. Dortmund was the perfect place for me because I knew they gave young players like Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele time on the pitch and a chance to do it.
"I knew I maybe wasn’t going to be the biggest fish in the pond at Dortmund, compared (to) going to some other Bundesliga clubs. But I was confident enough in myself to know that if I worked hard and trained hard I could make it to the first team and become a regular. I’m on the right path of doing that just now.”
While Pulisic served as an early inspiration for Reyna, the son of U.S. men's national team legend Claudio, has also found mentors in two of his current teammates.
The 17-year-old credits Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho for helping him make the leap from the youth squad to the senior team, with the two have made major steps of their own in recent years.
“The young guys like Erling and Jadon are really helpful,” Reyna said. “Jadon, obviously, because he came [to Dortmund from Manchester City] when he was my age, 16 or 17. He understands the work and the training that has to be put in by a young player to even make the squad, and then hopefully get some starts.
"He told me, ‘There will be some ups and downs, and even when you think you should be playing but don’t, you have to keep training and do all the things to show the coach that you’re ready.’ We also play similar positions. I can take bits and pieces from what he does and implement them in my game. And I’ll keep working, trying to emulate the same timeline that he’s on right now.”
Reyna originally came up through the New York City FC academy while his father served as sporting director of the MLS club. It was during that time he learned under then-manager Patrick Vieira, who brought the young attacker into first-team training several times during his tenure.
However, Reyna made the decision to head to Europe to join Dortmund to continue his development, a decision that has worked out spectacularly for the young attacker so far.
“I was with players like David Villa, (Andrea) Pirlo and (Frank) Lampard, I was used to it. And now, I would play with Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, (Mats) Hummels, players with similar careers. Legends," Reyna said.
"I was a bit uptight and wanted to do everything correctly at first. The biggest thing I had to work on was my defensive positioning. Tactically, there’s so much more structure here. In New York, I was playing as a No 10 and could go wherever I wanted, but here in Germany, I learned how to cut down the (passing) angles here, see the link-up there… the coach is very precise like that.”
He added: “With this team and this staff, it’s almost hard not to do well,” he says. “They have made it so much easier for me to take my chance and help the team score goals and make assists. I will keep learning and hopefully improving.”
Reyna was set to earn his first USMNT call-up in March before the coronavirus halted football around the world.