Two American teenagers made their debuts in top five leagues over the weekend. In the Bundesliga, 17 year-old Giovanni Reyna became the youngest American to see German top division action when called upon by Borussia Dortmund. In England, 18 year-old Indiana Vassilev was called on for Aston Villa to make his Premier League bow.
Comparisons to Christian Pulisic were inevitable once Reyna chose Dortmund to begin his professional career and those links only intensified as Reyna moved quickly through the BVB ranks, making his first matchday squad just before the Bundesliga’s Winterpause.
Like Pulisic before him, Reyna was then included in Dortmund’s first team squad for the winter camp and, again like his predecessor in yellow and black, he impressed over the break with a goal, earning first team consideration.
Lucien Favre was kind enough to keep the suspense to a minimum when he called on Reyna in Dortmund’s first game back from the break. Reyna entered in the 72nd minute of Dortmund’s thrilling 5-3 comeback win over Augsburg and started the play that resulted in fellow debutante Haaland’s third goal.
Having beaten Pulisic to the punch on his Bundesliga debut Reyna will now set his sights on eclipsing his countryman’s mark for youngest American to score in Bundesliga and Champions League play.
Of course, Dortmund remains a talent laden squad and minutes will be hard won by the teen attacker but if Reyna stays on this trajectory he may soon be swapping Dortmund tales with Pulisic as a part of the USMNT.
Vassilev Breaks Through
While “in the know” U.S soccer supporters have had their eyes on Reyna for some time, 18 year-old Indiana Vassilev’s rise has been comparatively stealthy. But with Christian Pulisc out injured until mid-February, DeAndre Yedlin sidelined with a broken hand, and fellow 18 year-old Owen Otasowie not in the 18 for Wolves 3-2 victory at Southampton, the eyes of American Premier League supporters were trained on Vassilev Saturday when he received the 67th minute call versus Brighton.
With his tireless running and pressing Vassilev provided a spark for the Villians, who saved the points with a late equalizer by Jack Grealish.
Villa is in a battle for Premier League survival, so it has to be encouraging for Vassilev that coach Dean Smith called his number in such precarious times. With Villa thin at the forward position, Vassilev will continue to press for playing time and success in the Premier League would surely cement his place with the U.S. U20’s and may earn the industrious attacker a look for the U23 or senior side.
In Other News…
As noted above, 18 year-old Owen Otasowie was not part of Wolves squad for Saturday’s 3-2 win over Southampton. The fourth player from our Four to Watch was Wolfsburg winger/forward Uly Llanez, who recently drew praise from U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter for his work at the full National Team January camp.
And One More
Yet another American teenager making his way in Europe is 19 year-old Richie Ledezma. He netted a brace this weekend for Jong PSV and is knocking on the door for first team action.
Arizona native Ledezma turned down a Homegrown contract offer from Real Salt Lake to sign a one and a half year contract with the Dutch side and immediately picked up a foot injury. That injury jeopardized the creative midfielders spot on the U.S. roster for the 2019 U20 World Cup, although coach Tab Ramos included Ledezma, even at less than 100%.
Ledezma received one start and he made it count, recording an assist as the Americans upset highly rated France.
Ledezma is a skillful midfield player who can score and assist. This is his second two goal game for Jong PSV. With his contract expiring at the end of June, it may behoove the Dutch side to see what the young American can do with some first team minutes.
Peter Nolan has been on the soccer beat for many years now, covering the United States Men's and Women's teams, from the SnowClasico to Azteca and back again. Along with the US national teams, Peter will provide insight into the MLS and NWSL, with a focus on the NY Red Bulls and NYCFC.