Was Gregg Berhalter right?! USMNT star Gio Reyna is thriving as a supersub at Dortmund

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Reyna DOrtmund celebration 2023
The American star is a difference-maker, but the best way for him to do that in the Champions League may be off the bench

As the Champions League knockout stages begin this week, the American spotlight is on Gio Reyna, much as it has been for most of the last three months.

From a disappointing World Cup emerged a federation-shaking scandal that is still nowhere near over. An emotional Reyna's frustration over his lack of minutes in Qatar rapidly snowballed into an unpredictable tale of blackmail, controversy and, ultimately, the collapse of a friendship between American soccer pioneers.

Reyna wasn't directly involved in most of what went down, but fairly or unfairly, he was at the center of it.

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And yet, despite that scandal, Reyna has returned to Borussia Dortmund in fine form, scoring three goals to silence any doubters that used the last few months as evidence to criticize his potential as a player.

Now, Dortmund are preparing to face a Chelsea team without their own American star, Christian Pulisic. With Pulisic out, Reyna is American soccer's sole hope in Europe's premier club competition, as the only player with any real potential to play a meaningful role in his side's pursuit of continental glory.

And, ironically, Reyna's best chance at doing that may be by accepting a similar role to the one that essentially ruined his World Cup.

In Qatar, Reyna was singled out by Gregg Berhalter as a player that needed to accept a diminished role, one that would see him used as a supersub, if at all. And as things stand, Reyna's best way of helping Dortmund seems to be off the bench as well.

The 20-year-old has thrived in that role recently, scoring three goals in under 60 minutes of game time off the bench upon the Bundesliga's return. Brought on to change games in the final third, Reyna has done exactly that.

His goal celebrations, meanwhile, have sent a pretty clear message to those watching at home: Reyna has heard the criticism, embraced it and is now being fueled by it.

That's all well and good. Reyna is clearly handling this the right way. However, that doesn't make up for the issues that still very much exist regarding his current fitness levels.

The facts are that Reyna is still not 100 percent fit or up to full match sharpness. After missing so much time in 2022 due to injury, he needs time to get back to his best. Berhalter said as much during the World Cup and Dortmund boss Edin Terzic has backed the USMNT boss up. In spurts, Reyna looks a lot like himself, but he's not able to sustain that quite yet.

"Gio didn't have an easy phase," Terzic said on January 27. "He had to fight with injuries for almost one-and-a-half years. He has scored the winning goal twice, is incredibly good in tight spaces, and can make quick decisions. He's not at 100 percent yet."

It's not totally fair to assess Reyna's fitness levels on one game, but his recent start against Werder Bremen did offer some evidence that he's still not where he could be. By and large, Reyna was on the periphery of the game, looking just a step off the pace. It was a performance that looked little like the energetic, direct efforts off the bench that preceded it.

Heading into Wednesday's Champions League tie against Chelsea, Reyna is not a sure-fire starter. Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, Sebastian Haller, Donyell Malen and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens are also players that could start in the attack, giving Terzic a wealth of options. Despite Chelsea's landscape-shaking spending spree in January, it could be argued that it's Dortmund, not the Blues, who are more overloaded in attacking positions.

Recent history shows that bringing in Reyna as one of those attackers for a game-changing cameo is one of Terzic's best options when the situation calls for it. With his technical ability, Reyna is a player that can legitimately alter games with one pass, one shot or one sequence and, over the last month or so, he's proven that he can do so immediately, even when coming in cold off the bench.

It likely won't be a role Reyna is in love with as he, like any player, is desperate to prove himself, especially in the Champions League. At least the opportunity is there, unlike for ex-Dortmund star Pulisic.

The fact is that Reyna, like Pulisic, is a transcendent talent for American soccer. It could easily be argued that Reyna is the most talented, the player with the most potential to reach the highest levels of the game.

Those moments may come in the years to come, in the Bundesliga or the Champions League or, for the USMNT's sake, at a World Cup. For now, though, Reyna should be prepared to offer what he can off the bench. And if recent weeks have taught us anything, he can still make all the difference in a diminished role.

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