DOHA, Qatar — One of the most harrowing subplots for the US men’s national team in the year leading up to the FIFA World Cup was the health of Gio Reyna, the teenage sensation and arguably the most gifted player in the USMNT setup.
After missing most of an entire year due to injury, Reyna returned to action in time to enjoy a very promising start to the current German Bundesliga season, showing off his impressive attacking qualities during a busy stretch where he played 10 matches for Borussia Dortmund in a one-month span, albeit with clear minute restrictions.
As a result, Reyna has arrived at the World Cup healthy and ready to go. A development that may have come as a surprise to some grateful USMNT fans, but not to Reyna, who never wavered in his belief that he would overcome his injury issues to play in his first World Cup.
“I always knew I was going to be ready for this moment,” Reyna said on Wednesday. “I think it was always in the back of my head to make sure I was ready for the World Cup. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling strong. It’s obviously still managing a few things. It’s going to take time. But yeah, I’m ready to help the team here.”
Reyna has been eased back into action for both Dortmund and the USMNT over the past three months, and while he still has only managed to play a full 90 minutes just once in the past 14 months, Reyna’s recent run of starts for Dortmund have helped push his fitness to new levels ahead of a World Cup which will be played in hot conditions.
“It was definitely one of the most tiring phases after this last year,” Reyna said of his recent run of playing time. “I missed a lot of time and was lacking and needed to build up a lot of fitness. But at the same time, I think they were really, really helpful for me and I did build up a lot of fitness at the time and at the end of it I was able to get a lot of minutes and start a lot of the games for Dortmund, so it was really good for me in the end.”
Reyna is poised to play a prominent role in the USMNT attack after missing a majority of the World Cup qualifying cycle due to injuries. Despite his lack of involvement in qualifying, Reyna’s USMNT teammates know full well how much of a difference he can make when the World Cup group stage begins on Monday against Wales.
“For a young kid, he’s like a leader on the team,” Matt Turner said of Reyna. “I don’t think he knows that yet, but I can see it in him.”
“Gio’s special man,” USMNT midfielder Tim Weah said. “When he gets on the field he plays in such a way where it’s just lovely to watch and his technical abilities are amazing. He’s very young, and seeing him play at the level that he’s playing at is amazing.”
Weah and Reyna could actually wind up battling for playing time opposite Christian Pulisic on the right flank, although Reyna is capable of playing anywhere in the USMNT attack.
“I’m not sure where I’m going to play yet, but I feel comfortable in right wing, left wing or attacking midfield,” Reyna told SBI when asked about his preferred position. “Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward for me. If I’m in one of those positions, it’s just do my role and just help the team.”
Reyna was one of 25 USMNT players who took part in full training on Wednesday, with Sergiño Dest the only player on the World Cup roster not to participate fully (an absence deemed precautionary by US Soccer).
“Today and yesterday were my first few days of fully training with the team,” Reyna said. “Before that, I was kind of taking a few days off and resting because it was six weeks in a row of having a midweek game in Dortmund, so I definitely needed a few days just to relax.
“We’re really starting to get into it now,” Reyna said. “Gregg (Berhalter) has ideas that we’re trying to implement into training and we’re still going to make adjustments along the way, but we’re all confident that by the time Wales comes, we’ll be prepared.”
Berhalter stated on Monday that he believes Wales is being underrated by American media, but Reyna’s take on Monday’s opponent makes it clear the USMNT players aren’t part of the American contingent looking past the Welsh.
“They’ve qualified for the World Cup out of Europe, which is always so difficult, so the fact that they’re even here to start with is a huge compliment to them,” Reyna said of Wales, the team he made his USMNT debut against two years ago. “It shows the world what they can do.
“Obviously Gareth Bale is Gareth Bale. He needs no introduction,” Reyna said. “Obviously we need to be on him, we need to limit a lot of things that take away what he likes to see. It’s not only him, there’s a lot of players that play in the Premier League. A real organized team that can sit back, with physical defenders, but on the counter they can be deadly with some fast guys, too. We’re going to have to be at our best to get three points against them.”
Reyna, who turned 20 on Sunday, will be looking to make his World Cup debut 20 years after his father Claudio helped lead the USMNT to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, earning tournament Best XI honors that World Cup. The former USMNT captain appeared in three World Cups for the United States, and will be watching in the stadium as he and his son become the first father-son duo to play in World Cups for the USMNT.
“He told me it’s a moment not to take for granted, and just enjoy it,” Reyna said of the advice his father gave ahead of his first World Cup. “It’s a special moment and World Cups don’t come around too often, so you’ve got to enjoy the moment.