Where’s Gio Reyna? As USMNT struggles to score, frustration mounts over his lack of minutes


The final touches of the USMNT’s 0-0 draw with England belonged to Gio Reyna. There were four of them, quick in succession as he drifted closer to the touchline. The last was a pass played back in the direction of Christian Pulisic, but it skipped off the right shin of Jack Grealish and out of play. And that was that. Reyna pivoted and craned his head toward the crowd in frustration because he knew the whistle was going to be blown imminently. He had 11 minutes and 30 seconds of time on the field. That’s all.

One of America’s brightest talents, a linchpin in this ongoing youth movement in U.S. men’s soccer, has been curiously absent from the limelight fans and pundits alike expected to shine on him. It took U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter 173 minutes into Group B play of this World Cup to send the 20-year-old winger onto the field. But the big moment came in a match in which Berhalter won a tactical battle against counterpart Gareth Southgate, as the Americans outplayed heavily favored England for sustained stretches.

Much of the U.S.’s success was due to the game plan Berhalter implemented: Going to a flat 4-4-2 formation, taking England’s midfield out of the match, and allowing speed up top to stretch an already somewhat suspect backline. In arguably one of his best managed matches since being appointed to his post nearly four years ago, there was still an undercurrent of frustration over the utilization of Reyna — or lack thereof.

In the lead-up to the match, former U.S. captain Landon Donovan pleaded to Berhalter to start the Borussia Dortmund winger. For a FOX broadcast that has been fairly heavy on heaping praise onto this young U.S. team, it was a real moment of substance.

“We can’t talk about Gio without talking about the injuries,” Donovan said pre-match. “It’s been really sad to see. It’s kind of depressing: he had played five, six consecutive games for Dortmund and was starting to fly.

“He comes into this tournament, we’ve all got him penciled in for the starting lineup and all of a sudden he doesn’t step on the field against Wales, and we’re thinking, “What is going on here?”

That is the question that is hovering at the moment. Even when Berhalter’s team played one of their most cohesive matches together against an elite opponent, the lack of substantial minutes for a player of Reyna’s unique qualities steals some of the focus.

Reyna is 6-foot-1 technical winger who, when healthy, has proven to be a reliable threat on one of the best clubs in Germany. The “when” has always been the issue, though, as U.S. fans know. His cameo against England was his 15th senior-team appearance. In total, he has had four goals and one assist since his first call-up in 2020.

There have been muscle strains galore, which preceded a hamstring tear that left him out of Dortmund’s lineup for much of the year. In the final tune-up match for this World Cup against Saudi Arabia in late September, Reyna came up hobbling, which set him out for some time again. Then, most recently, in a scrimmage against Qatar club team Al-Gharafa SC last Thursday, Reyna again felt some tightness. A few days later, Reyna did not feature in the 1-1 draw with Wales, which proved to be an end to end battle in its final stages — a potentially dangerous situation for a player with a long history of soft tissue injuries to be thrown into. Still, his absence set off alarms among the USMNT fan base.

Berhalter said that he and the staff were guarding Reyna a bit as he worked toward full fitness. But Reyna had said after the match that he felt 100 percent and was good to go.

So as the Americans routinely put England under pressure on Friday, and their defenders began to tire, a natural thought would be: At what point does Berhalter go to a vital talent like Reyna to finally help unlock this match and secure a potentially big win?

The answer: The 83rd minute.

Reyna came on for Timothy Weah. Including the four-plus minutes of stoppage time, Reyna never really found the flow of the match after replacing Weah on the right side. The U.S. had persevered with quickly-pieced-together counterattacks when the ball turned over the midfield, utilizing the speed of Weah, Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie, who was playing as a right winger in the U.S. setup.

When Reyna made his World Cup debut, the FOX broadcast showed his parents — former USMNT star Claudio Reyna and former UNC star Danielle Egan — in the stands. Like all proud parents do in those moments, Claudio took out his cellphone to capture the moment their son trotted out.

So what will Tuesday’s must-win match against a revitalized Iran team bring for Reyna?

The Americans have given up one goal in their first two group-stage matches: A regrettable penalty to Gareth Bale late in the second half against Wales. Conversely, the final product in the attacking third has been lacking. The U.S. has scored one goal in 180 minutes and hasn’t scored in 144 minutes and counting. Conventional wisdom points to one of the pieces of the operation’s puzzle as a potential remedy for that. Maybe not as a starter — it’s doubtful Berhalter benches Weah or breaks up the midfield trio of McKennie, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah — but at a point where Reyna can inject himself into a game that will tell the tale of this World Cup.

Asked if he knew when Berhalter was going to put him into the match against England, Reyna said in the mixed zone, “No, but like I said last time, he doesn’t have to. It’s not his job. It’s my job to be ready when my number’s called, so yeah.”

Asked twice how he’s feeling physically, Reyna said he felt good and was looking forward to Tuesday.

“Now we have all to play for next game and we’ve just got to take care of (Iran),” Reyna said.

It’s all there, as he said. But Donovan’s point resonates with a fan base with their stomachs collectively tangled up in knots for the next few days.

“I’m not sure what the reality is,” Donovan said. “He says one thing, Gregg says another. I don’t know, but we need this guy on the field if we’re going to be successful.”

(Photo: Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


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