College football and soccer analyst
AL RAYYAN, Qatar — This is the story of the United States Men’s National Team that Gregg Berhalter wishes people would stop talking about.
The curious case of Giovanni Reyna.
The 20-year-old winger has been a hot topic since before the start of the World Cup, and not on his own initiative. Reyna – the closest thing to US soccer royalty as the son of two-time US World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and former US Women’s National Team player Danielle Egan – is one of the young brightest stars of a team full of shining stars. He thought he would play a huge role for the Americans in Qatar but has been mostly absent from the pitch so far.
Reyna, who has 15 caps, four goals and one assist since his first call-up in 2020, sat out the Americans’ opener against Wales and came on in the 83rd minute against England.
As the United States faces World Cup elimination on Tuesday in their third and final group stage match against Iran at Al Thumama Stadium (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) , a question persists: what is the problem with Reyna?
USMNT’s Gio Reyna on his personal journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup
The Americans must win on Tuesday to qualify for the tournament’s knockout stage. Iran, on the other hand, need just a tie to advance to the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over Wales on Friday.
[For the USMNT, the knockout round has arrived early]
Berhalter’s starting lineup has been essentially the same for two games, save for the striker. Josh Sargent started against Wales and Haji Wright got the nod against England. It is believed that Jesus Ferreira, the third real striker for this team, could start against Iran.
Berhalter was asked on Monday how he would rate his centre-forward’s play so far, and if he would consider playing Reyna in that role to give Iran a different look. Berhalter responded by saying Sargent had a good chance at the near post against Wales and Wright was effective against England. He acknowledged his side could have been better in the penalty area but “it’s up to the rest of the group to give them good service so they can complete some opportunities.”
Regarding Reyna, Berhalter had this to say: “I think in terms of alternatives to the striker position, we’re comfortable with the three we have. We haven’t necessarily thought about it. put Gio or Christian [Pulisic] over there or Timmy Weah over there or Jordan Morris over there. We’ve been more focused on the three we have at camp.”
[Forget tactics and lineups: For USMNT, it’s about having right mentality]
The 6-foot-1 Reyna is a dangerous offensive player when healthy. He’s a smart, technical striker with brilliant ball skills and was the youngest American to feature in the UEFA Champions League in 2020 (then 17), breaking the record once set by Pulisic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest talents American football has ever had.
Over the past year, Reyna has suffered injuries which have limited her availability for the national team in qualifying as well as her Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. He played in his club’s last three games before the World Cup break and, for all intents and purposes, was considered a healthy and fit member of Berhalter’s 26-man roster.
Reyna told reporters he felt “100 per cent healthy” after the Wales game, despite not playing. Berhalter decided to bring on substitutes Brenden Aaronson, Wright, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta as the United States led 1-0, then Morris came on in the 88th minute. Berhalter said the same evening that Reyna may have felt “a bit of tension” during a scrum earlier in the week against Qatari side Al-Gharafa SC, and noted that they were “building it up and thought he could play a big role in the tournament. The question is when.” Reyna then played around 20 minutes in the second game against England.
Asking Berhalter about Reyna’s status has now become a thing. And the coach seems annoyed by the line of questioning. But even former US captain Landon Donovan wants to know what’s going on.
“He’s coming into this tournament, we’ve all signed him up for the starting lineup and all of a sudden he’s not coming onto the pitch against Wales and we’re thinking, ‘What’s going on? here? “” Donovan said on FOX ahead of the England game. “I don’t know what the reality is. He says one thing, Gregg says another. I don’t know, but we need this guy on the pitch if we’re going to be successful.”
Perhaps all questions will be answered on Tuesday night in what is arguably the greatest game in American football history. Or maybe the mystery could continue.
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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman”, released in the spring of 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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