So, according to multiple sources former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna will retire Wednesday after a long soccer career. Safe to say, the New York Red Bulls would like his designated player cash back for his one and a half uninspiring seasons in the Jersey swamp.
Honestly, I’m completely torn how I feel about Reyna. I’ve had this argument plenty of times over recent years with my buddy Suppe, just how good he was as a player. I’ve always taken the tact that he was overrated, while Suppe vehemently defended his merits as a soccer player.
What stands out or will also be remembered is his mistake and or being caught with the ball in the World Cup against Ghana. Reyna loses the ball and Ghana goes on to score. I think he shows you as well how young players can’t worry about mistakes too much. Yes, don’t make them or limit them but even top players lost the ball in the World Cup. Reyna’s soccer career didn’t end after he lost the ball.
There are probably two ways to dissect the Reyna impact on the United States soccer program of the 1990s and early 2000s. On the plus side, he did start the trend of Americans becoming valid field players in Europe. Would the transfers of guys like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have been possible without the trailblazing of Reyna? Eventually, but Reyna was one of the first no matter what else is said. Also, at a time it seemed impossible, Reyna managed to where the captain’s armband at VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.
He did play a spell as Glasgow Rangers, which at the time was about as good as it got for American players in Europe. His later time at Sunderland and Manchester City was solid, if not spectacular. Professional is probably the word that comes to mind.
Now, here’s where the Reyna stuff gets a little dicey for me personally. I recall him coming up in the mid 1990s in the U.S. shirt and really flashing a lot of talent. At times he seemed like a player the U.S. never had, not afraid to rip shots from outside the box and take a game into his hands.
After those initial appearances, he obviously drifted into the ‘holding’ role, and also always seemed to be fighting a nagging injury of some kind.
Maybe I’m not ‘cultured’ enough to appreciate the nuances of a holding midfielder. Maybe I’m biased. Who knows? It just seemed to me that Reyna was very overrated as a National Team player due to his European pedigree. Hard to say if those things are mutually exclusive and it’s not like the U.S. had another player Reyna was holding back in the starting XI, but still, something always seemed missing from Reyna.
The biggest indictment on Reyna’s career is this simple fact. He was on the roster for the USMNT for the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cup and in that string he only played in one victory for the U.S., the historic quarterfinals victory over Mexico in South Korea six years ago.
For me, I’ll never forget that grim image when Reyna (and Kasey Keller to some extent) made a bonehead play, allowing Haminu Dramani to pick the ball off his feet and go in for a breakaway against Ghana in the final Group E game at the 2006 World Cup in Nurnberg. Is it fair to sum up a player’s contribution in one fell swoop? No, but that’s how I’ll personally remember Reyna.
Reyna didn’t curry any brownie points either in that recent ‘Sports Illustrated’ story when he claimed there wasn’t any strategy in soccer.
In the end, despite my lingering doubts was definitely a quality player. Maybe he was a little too ahead of his time. If Reyna came a decade later and there weren’t the expectations of being “Captain America” things would have worked differently. He could have been the American Makalele and we’ve love him for it. Maybe, again, if Reyna played 10 years later and satellite television made it easy to watch his European exploits, not his International shortcomings or gimping around on that embarrassment for a soccer surface in New Jersey, my opinion of Reyna would be different.
Maybe it was just that we, the public, wanted Reyna to be something he wasn’t and let that overshadow his overall contributions to American soccer.
Instead, I’ll use the old Mike Francesa citation on Tell Savalas’ film career. Reyna was good, not great.
Mike Cardillo writes one of the best soccer blogs around, That’s On Point. His contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org