Gio Reyna: “I’d love to have them. I’m sure my family would love to be here. Obviously, certain things are more important than important than soccer at the moment. You just got to stay safe and. Regardless, it’s still going be a special day.” (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
When Gio Reyna takes the field in Swansea, Wales as expected for the U.S. national team Thursday, there will be one couple in Germany who will be more than a bit anxious.
They also will be proud, very proud.
For Claudio and Danielle Reyna, their 17-year-old’s son highly anticipated international debut for the team will be an emotional occasion.
“It will be a very emotional moment for our family and I to see Gio represent the U.S. national team for the first time at the age of 17,” Claudio said in a statement through 2021 MLS expansion team Austin FC, of which he is sporting director. “We are extremely proud of his accomplishments and the dedication he has shown to reach one of his biggest goals.”
Both Gio’s parents are former U.S. internationals, so they know the special feeling of representing one’s country better than anyone
Barring a surprise change of mind by U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter or an injury during pregame warm-ups, the teenager should be on the field for the opening kickoff. Gio was slated to attend his first national team camp, but that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m obviously very happy to be here,” Gio said during a ZOOM conference call with the media Wednesday. “We have an exciting young group with a good mix and a lot of versatility. So, I think the future is really, really exciting and I’m just really happy to be here and I think everybody else is finally happy to have this new group together.”
Gio’s strategy is simple: duplicate how he has performed for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
“I just have to play my game like I always try to do like I’ve done with Dortmund,” he said. “If I can emulate what I did at Dortmund this season here, I think I can be successful here. For me, it was always just trying to help the team get involved and try to score goals and assists. I’m really just trying to help the team in any way possible.”
Claudio and Danielle won’t in Westchester County, where they have lived for years, or in Austin, Texas, where Claudio is employed. They will watch the match from Germany, where they have been visiting their son recently.
Gio, who turns 18 Friday, had hoped his parents could have been at the stadium to watch the match, but he understood the restrictions about having spectators at games in these unusual times.
“It’s a bummer,” he said. “They’re actually in Germany with me at the moment so they’ll be watching from there. Of course, I’d love to have them. I’m sure my family would love to be here. Obviously, certain things are more important than important than soccer at the moment. You just got to stay safe and. Regardless, it’s still going be a special day.”
His soccer DNA is of the highest quality because he is the son of the former internationals.
A long-time USMNT captain, Claudio competed at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cup , making 112 appearances and scoring eight goals. On the club level, he also performed for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland, Manchester City and the Red Bulls. Danielle, who was an Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association champion and played in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, earned six caps and scored one goal after a stellar career at the University of North Carolina. She won four NCAA Division I women’s championships along future USWNT standouts Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini.
So, Gio, a standout for the New York City FC’s team in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, had two mentors in house every day while growing up.
“They’ve taught me so much,” he said. “It’s hard to really point out one thing it’s more, it’s more just tips that my dad’s been giving me. My mom’s more on the effort side when I’m not putting enough effort, kicking me in the behind, making me work a little bit harder.
“My dad’s always just been there watching my trainings, my games. After every game we talk about the game and how it went. They’re really just there to help me in any way possible.”
He admitted he didn’t remember much about Claudio’s career, having been born in 2002. He said had had some memories of Claudio’s tenure with Manchester City and some when his father played with the Red Bulls. Claudio retired during the summer of 2008, when Gio was five.
Gio happens to be comfortable with Berhalter as he has been around the USMNT head coach.
In fact, Berhalter played with Reyna on the national team back in the day, including the 2002 World Cup.
In some ways, it’s father, like son.
“Gio and his dad have a very similar grace to them on how they move around the field in a very, very fluid way,” Berhalter said. “Gio and Claudio both just move around the field [in a] very, very fluid way. That’s really a really big comparison of both of them. You know they’re both competitive. Claudio was really competitive you can see Gio also has that competitive fire in these games that we’ve been watching from Dortmund. You can see how badly he wants to win the games.”
Not surprisingly, Gio, who was born in England while Claudio was playing for Sunderland, said that he has a good rapport with his coach.
“I know him really well and I have almost my whole life. So, it just makes you feel much more comfortable and super easy to talk to,” Gio said. “If I need anything he’s always there for advice and willing to help in any way possible.”
Gio isn’t the only U.S. player who wants to earn his first cap Thursday. There are 10 players in camp who are poised to make their USMNT debut vs. Wales or against Panama in Austria Monday.
“It’s been a long wait since last camp on, he said. “I know everybody’s so excited to finally be back together. I think tomorrow you’ll see that we’re going be really excited. There’s going be the possibility that new guys could make their debut. It’s just going to be a really exciting day.”
Given what Reyna already has accomplished in his short time at Dortmund, the expectations are great, almost through the roof.
Since coming on as a substitute in a 5-3 victory over FC Augsburg on Jan. 18, it seems Reyna sets another record or reaches another milestone.
In that Augsburg match, he became the youngest American in the Bundesliga (17 years, 66 days), breaking Christian Pulisic’s mark.
When he scored his first professional goal in a 3-2 loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup on Feb. 4, Reyna became the youngest goal-scorer in the competition’s history.
In is third appearance of the 2020-21 Bundesliga, Reyna became the first American in the league and the youngest Bundesliga player to register a hat-trick of assists in Dortmund’s 4-0 win past SC Freiburg on Oct. 3.
That should be enough for now, or we’ll break the internet.
It would not be surprising, however, if there is much more to come, making for some more emotional days for Claudio and Danielle Reyna.