The next Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna? Inside Borussia Dortmund's search for the next American wonderkids in both the men's and women's game

Gio Reyna Borussia Dortmund 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Bundesliga club recently welcomed its top talents from its North American academy, continuing its focus on developing future internationals

Call it scouting, call it luck, call it whatever you like, but you have to admit that Borussia Dortmund struck gold with Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna.

While many in Europe ignored the American market, Dortmund, and the Bundesliga, saw opportunity. They saw ready-made players that wouldn't require massive transfer fees, with many not requiring any at all.

That was the case for both Pulisic and Reyna, both of whom arrived in Germany on free transfers.

Pulisic, meanwhile, left for the third-largest transfer fee in club history when he signed for Chelsea in a whopping €64 million (£57m/$73m). Should the club ever want to cash in on Reyna, there's no doubt that he'd go for millions as well.

So, while other clubs around the world are now making their own push in the American market, Dortmund are just building on a foundation that's been laid down over the last decade or so.

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The hope? To find the next Pulisic or Reyna or, as they continue to expand, perhaps even the next Alex Morgan or Mallory Swanson.

Dortmund, in many ways, remain committed to the U.S. and, at some point, the hope is that they'll reap the rewards once again.

  1. Dortmund's American academies

    Dortmund's American academies

    Dortmund's American academy system began in 2006 and, over the last 17 years, has developed to expand Dortmund's footprint all over North America.

    Now, in 2023, there are 12 affiliate clubs scattered across the U.S. and Canada, with the club instituting many of the same training principles used at their own academy back in Germany.

    "We have history in the U.S., and we have had great experiences with American players," said Dortmund legend and current first-team assistant coach Jorg Heinrich."We now have a special opportunity to have an International Academy in the U.S where it allows us to bring players to show them what it means to play and train in this environment and in this culture."

    "The best case would be to find players for our first team," added Henrich. "We are looking for players on a Champions League level, but even Gio and Christian first played with our youth teams to get used to the environment and then they made the next step to the first team.

    "It's a long way, a long, long way. In the best case, success would mean exactly this: we get players for our first team."

  2. A trip to Dortmund
    Getty Images

    A trip to Dortmund

    As part of Dortmund's academy programming, the club has what they call the School of Excellence, their talent ID platform for the best of the best in their system. As part of this, the elite players of certain age groups are evaluated and, ultimately, invited to Germany to get a taste of the Dortmund experience.

    Earlier this month, the club hosted a total of 18 boys and 17 girls alongside six International Academy coaches and Director of Soccer Development Dru Wright. The players trained twice a day with Dortmund's coaches, getting a look at what life is like in the German academy while giving club coaches more information on the best of the best currently in their North American setup.

    Additionally, players were able to tour the club's facilities, attend a match against FC Koln and meet many of the club's most important people, including first-team head coach Edin Terzic and, of course, Reyna.

    Perhaps the most important part of the trip, though, are matches. The boys faced a mix of U-14s and U-15s from Dortmund's academy, while the girls invited were able to to face Dortmund's women's team, which was launched in 2021.

    "They're evaluating and watching the players throughout," says Wright. "The players also have the opportunity in terms of going on a tour of the stadium, and they also finish off this trip with a match so they have an opportunity to go see the first team play, which is kind of the pinnacle of the trip. From a player perspective, more important, in terms of opportunities for them, is the way we train. Every time they're on the field, they're being evaluated, both on and off."

  3. A rising women's program
    BVB Frauen

    A rising women's program

    While the club's men's team has established itself as one of the best in the world, especially when it comes to talent development, the club's women's team is still very, very new and very much in development.

    When the women's team was launched, supporters made it clear that they didn't want the club to buy their way up the ladder. They wanted to do it "the Dortmund way" by starting all the way at the bottom in the seventh tier of German soccer. They earned promotion in their first season but all involved know there is a long way to go.

    And that is what makes the club's interactions with the American market so interesting. Historically, no country has produced more top women's players than the U.S., where the game has been far more advanced than in most other countries. In recent years, many European giants have started to catch up but Dortmund, as a club, know they're far behind.

    "This definitely is the beauty of this relationship, because it's not one way," Heinrich said. "Especially when it comes to girls soccer, we also can learn something because girls soccer in the U.S. is well-established and we are making our first steps. We're building it from scratch.

    "We now have two women's teams. We started with one and now we have two next year when we bring in our U-17, so we are really doing it the BVB way and not just buying a franchise or buying a license from a professional women's team. We are doing it our own way starting in the lowest league and then getting promoted step by step and, for sure, I'm convinced the U.S. girls will play a role in this in the next few years."

    The group of girls brought to Germany were mostly in the U-15 through U-17 range, with a few in the U-18 and 19 age group. And, according to Wright, they showed fairly well against Dortmund's first team.

    The club understands that, as things stand, the best American players have an obvious pathway that brings most of them from college to the NWSL. Will we see the next Morgan or Swanson in black and yellow over the next few years? Probably not, but the club hopes that American players could play a big part in lifting the club to where it wants to be.

    "Our girls are competing right at the level where there's an opportunity in the next, to be honest, probably the next two to five years, where we can potentially have a player opportunity for these girls to come play professionally here as a part of this relationship," Wright said.

    "It's something that's changing in the mindset of female soccer in the U.S. Currently right now, for the average female player in the U.S., the number one path is to go play in college. That's their pathway to go. That's what most people do in this day and age, but players are now starting to broaden their horizons to wanting to go play overseas.

    "Obviously in the professional game for the women in the U.S., they don't only just play in the U.S., but a lot of them also play overseas in offseason. That mindset is starting to change a little bit as an opportunity that girls want to go to want to take early on."

  4. What makes success?

    What makes success?

    The hope is, as always, to find a diamond in the rough, to find the next USMNT or USWNT star, but the club does understand that players like that are one in a million. The chances of a player rising from an American academy to the Dortmund first team, at least on the men's side are, in fact, very slim.

    The odds are a bit better on the women's side, given their current place in the pyramid, but there's still so much work to do before the club can attract elite players on the women's side.

    But that doesn't mean they aren't looking.

    "For us in the U.S." Wright says, "our main goal is to produce that next player that ends up in the youth academy, and to potentially have the opportunity to go into the first team. I think that's a very honest approach."

    He added: "My job is to make sure that we bring the best players we can and put them in front of the people who do have to make those tough decisions. I think we do have some potential players in the pipeline and I'm interested to see how they hold up around here... Those players will come to the top for us and I believe one of those will end up, one of these days, here. That's the goal for sure."

    And still, that doesn't mean the club's only priority is those one-in-a-million players. The club is adamant about sticking to the Dortmund Way, about doing things in a way that helps people. Most players that walk into the academy will never play in front of the Yellow Wall, but that doesn't mean they aren't important to the club.

    "Success for us is also about character development," added Florian Ingwersen, Program Manager of the BVB Football Academy, "and so we are focusing on every individual player. It's a holistic approach, which means character here in Dortmund...For us it's so important to not only focus on the player as a player. We are also focusing on the human being and at the end we are more than convinced better people make better players.

    "Success also can be success in life being a teacher, being a doctor, being a pilot, whatever. We want to play our part in the progress of young people's lives, and this is what we believe and what the International Academy believes as well."