Borussia Dortmund should give Jadon Sancho a shot until end of season
DORTMUND, Germany -- Sometimes it's the little things that make moments extra special.
Last Saturday, a coin toss made all the difference in how Jadon Sancho got to experience his first professional goal in Borussia Dortmund's 4-0 rout of Leverkusen. Bayer's captain, Kevin Volland, won the coin toss ahead of the kick-off at the Westfalenstadion and, in an attempt to shake things up, he opted for the hosts to play toward the Yellow Wall first.
The decision earned Volland a hostile reaction from the Dortmund fans, who prefer their team to play toward the South stand in the second half. But in hindsight, Dortmund's 18-year-old Englishman won't mind.
In the 13th minute, 19-year-old Christian Pulisic dribbled his way past two opponents and picked out his younger teammate on the left edge of the penalty area. Sancho, who had missed a glaring one-on-one chance just minutes earlier, took a touch to set himself up for the shot and calmly slotted the ball around goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan into the far corner. You will always remember your first time, they say.
The sea of galvanised yellow, which looked even brighter than usual on a warm spring day in April, erupted. Beer fountains spewed across the stand that can hold 25,000 fans. The Yellow Wall in turmoil is a sight too overwhelming for the eye as the colossus is impossible to capture in its entirety at once. For Sancho, it could not have been a better view to forge a vivid memory that surely will stick with him for the rest of his life.
Sancho became the first Englishman to score for BVB and the youngest of his country to score in the Bundesliga. Some may argue, however, that his goal wasn't the highlight in what can be described a breakout performance.
In the 63rd minute, Sancho plucked a long ball from Manuel Akanji out of the air at full speed in one seamless move. A pristine first touch with the outside of his right foot put the ball into his path without losing any pace. The rookie squared the ball to forward Maximilian Philipp in the box, who had no trouble converting.
Sancho's control during that play was a throwback to a young Mario Gotze, who used the exact same motion to cushion a ball from the air as an 18-year-old in a 2-0 win against Hamburg in 2010. It was the sort of moment that will live on in the memories of its witnesses beyond a season. It's also a sign that Sancho, who joined the Black and Yellows from Manchester City's youth academy last summer, is destined for bigger things.
Together with Marco Reus, Sancho was the standout performer in what was Dortmund's best performance of the season, which came just one week after an atrocious loss in the Revierderby. After experimenting quite a bit with personnel and formations, coach Peter Stoger just might have struck gold by opting for a 4-1-4-1 formation with Julian Weigl as a lone holding midfielder behind Mario Gotze and Reus, who are playing what is now referred to a "double 10."
The coach explained on Friday that his choices were mainly influenced by the injury of on-loan centre-forward Michy Batshuayi, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. "We wanted to create attacking momentum with a mobile trio in the centre, namely with Gotze and Reus behind Philipp, accompanied by quick wingers."
For the first time in months, Dortmund's attack was fluid, looking more like a cohesive unit rather than an ensemble of individual talent. It begged the question: why not sooner?
Maybe it required a painful loss to Schalke at the Revierderby for Stoger daring to make fundamental changes like introducing centre-back Akanji for team captain Marcel Schmelzer at left-back.
Naturally, the exiling of the captain remains a prominent headline in German papers but Stoger has very little reason to make changes going into Sunday's game at Bremen. For Sancho, this could be a massive chance, with three games left in the season, to make a late case to be part of England's World Cup squad.
Asked if the 18-year-old would have what it takes to be part of his country's selection, Stoger bluntly replied "no idea."
That said, there are several arguments to be made why Gareth Southgate could take the winger to Russia. With Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli, the Three Lions have a limited amount of wingers who can create something by themselves as Sancho can. And besides, a nomination for a budding talent who is likely to enjoy an illustrious international career can never come too early -- even if it's just for the sake of experiencing the surroundings of a big tournament. It's something Joachim Low has done consistently since taking over as German national team coach.
If Sancho manages to confirm his bright performance against Leverkusen in the final stretch of the season, it would also be a reassuring signal to a club that is planning a big overhaul in the summer. Chances are the youngster will continue where he left off as he is to face Bremen right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie, who has a tendency to struggle against fast, nimble wingers.
Under head coach Florian Kohfeldt, Bremen have become a proactive and attacking-minded side again. It's helped the Northern outfit secure safety against relegation with three games to spare. However, their positive play could be their downfall against a reinvigorated Dortmund team that can all but secure Champions League qualification with a win at the Weserstadion.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.