By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (May 24, 2023) US Soccer Players – The Bundesliga’s final round of matches is an annual exercise in intrigue. Each year massive stakes are on the line when the competition’s 18 teams finish a 34-match schedule with nine games played simultaneously.
Near the top, clubs battle for places in the UEFA Champions League, with at least one or two of four spots available to German clubs normally hanging in the balance. At the bottom, relegation fights often go down to the final day.
In a league noted for its relative competitive balance compared to other top European competitions, the season’s final day promises drama. There aren’t many foregone conclusions in Germany’s top division.
Except, that is, for the identity of the champion. While the league is often more competitive from top to bottom than leagues in England, Italy, or Germany, the title-winning club has been all too predictable for a decade. For each of the last ten seasons, the Bundesliga season ended with the same team on top: Bayern Munich.
But as Germany prepares for the season’s final day on Saturday, Bayern’s dominance is in jeopardy. With a round to play, Borussia Dortmund, not Bayern, sits atop the standings and therefore has the advantage.
Dortmund last won the Bundesliga title back in 2011-12, the last team other than Bayern to do so. For the ten years since, the shield has belonged to Bayern. Only once in that span did the title race come down to the final day, when Bayern edged Dortmund by two points to lift the trophy in 2018-19. That season, Bayern had the edge going into Match 34, with both teams finishing the season with wins.
This time, a pair of victories for Bayern and Dortmund on Saturday would mean a championship for Dortmund. Dortmund will play in front of its supporters at home against 9th-place Mainz, while Bayern is at Cologne. There’s still one more job to do, but it’s worth reviewing how Dortmund got itself to this moment and how an American international with fewer than 600 minutes on the field this season played such an important role in that journey.
The simplest way to explain Dortmund’s title challenge this season is to highlight the club’s incredible 2023, a string of 18 games played since the Bundesliga resumed on January 22nd. In the club’s final game before an extended break for the World Cup and Germany’s traditional winter pause, Dortmund fell 4-2 away to Borussia Moenchengladbach. Dortmund would only lose once more between January and now, setting up the final day opportunity to win a championship. They earned 42 of a possible 54 points, with the only blemish on its record coming via a 4-2 loss to Bayern Munich on April 1st.
Gio Reyna was key to Dortmund getting maximum points from crucial games early in that run, in a part of the season when challengers to Bayern’s dominance often faded away. Reyna’s timely goals have helped put Dortmund on the verge of beating Bayern to the line and lifting its ninth Bundesliga title, an achievement that would tie the club with FC Nurnberg for second-most in history.
Reyna started Dortmund’s November loss to Gladbach, playing 45 minutes before exiting at halftime. He hasn’t started since. He’s scored five of his seven goals as a substitute during the club’s 2023 charge to the top of the table.
The first of those goals was a match winner at Signal Iduna Park on January 22nd against Augsburg. Reyna entered for Karim Adeyemi in the 70th minute of a 2-2 game. Five minutes later, Dortmund went ahead on a goal by Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, only to give up the lead and risk dropping two crucial points when Augsburg struck back in the 76th minute. Reyna made sure the Augsburg lead didn’t last and Dortmund would claim maximum points with a right-footed volley two minutes later.
Three days later, Reyna played the hero off the bench again. Dortmund found itself locked into a potential draw away to Mainz after each club scored in the first five minutes. Borussia Dortmund coach Edin Terzic turned to Reyna after a little more than an hour to aid the attack and the hunt for the winning goal.
Salvation eventually arrived in added time. Dortmund’s 93rd-minute corner, won off of a hopeful, desperate ball forward from a goal kick, gave Reyna one more chance to make the difference. A flicked header to the far post from the set piece fell to him, and he deftly guided the ball into Mainz’s net. A disappointing draw instead became a win. One point became three.
Reyna kept his scoring run going in his next appearance, contributing a goal in a 5-1 win over Freiburg on February 4th. Dortmund’s title challenge took a hit with the April 1st loss to Bayern Munich, but the club bounced back with a win the following week against Union Berlin. Reyna didn’t take part in either the Bayern match or the Union victory, but he did once again step up to help his club get a crucial result on April 15th.
Dortmund was up 2-0 by the 33rd minute at VfB Stuttgart, then went up a man when Stuttgart’s Konstantinos Mavropanos earned a second yellow card six minutes before halftime. But a 77th-minute Stuttgart goal halved the lead. Reyna entered in the 82nd minute, just before Stuttgart scored a second goal and drew level. Reyna recovered a blocked shot and fired the ball into the net two minutes into added time. Stuttgart would equalize, but the result still gave Dortmund an important point.
Without a deeper look at the timing and nature of his goals, Reyna’s total of seven on the season in just under 600 minutes is more than a goal per 90 minutes. The quantity is impressive. The quality is what truly matters for Borussia Dortmund.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Michael Titgemeyer – Action Press via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com