Reyna won’t dwell on injuries. He’s too focused on Qatar ’22

DUSSELDORF, Germany – Giovanni Reyna enters the room. He sat down. He leans back in his chair and after maybe 30 seconds of small talk he says, “Listen, I don’t want to look back into the past. Not at all.” He smiles.

Reyna is not unreasonable. He’s had a brutal year in every way. There was a hamstring. There was a thigh. There was a hamstring. There was an optimization. There was an illness. There was a stab. Reyna is still only 19 but he’s already had a taste of middle age, the injuries never seem to stop. Reyna has missed 34 of Borussia Dortmund’s last 45 games and 15 of the last 19 for the USA over the past 12 months. Watching so much football when you should actually be playing? Reyna withered. He withered.

So it makes sense that he wants to look ahead. With the World Cup just eight weeks away, Reyna is finally healthy. He and his coaches, including US boss Gregg Berhalter, are careful not to overload his workload too soon, but from the very (very) few positive results for the United States to come from Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in Dusseldorf, Reyna’s first start for the Americans since last September was significant.

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Reyna was hardly amazing. No one in the US, apart from goalkeeper Matt Turner, came close to delivering a superb performance against Japan. Any team that fails to score despite having almost 60% possession deserves the criticism it receives.

However, Reyna displayed flashes. The USA’s best chance came in the first half when he set up a pass to Sergino Dest, who ripped down the edge before crossing to Jesus Ferreira just outside the goal. Ferreira’s weak header was unfortunate, but the passage of the game that led to it was exactly what the fans (and Berhalter) were longing for.

Such was the sequence as Reyna grabbed the ball in his own half and ran, flicking defenders on and off and putting USA all alone in the offensive third. In the past, Berhalter has typically used Reyna across the board, but he admitted this week he sees the value of Reyna’s ball skills as more central. Against Japan, Reyna completed 9 of 11 passes, 3 of 4 in the attacking third, and registered two progressive carries and one progressive pass (events in the opponent’s half that put the ball five and ten yards towards goal, respectively). It seems almost inevitable that Reyna will end up more in the middle in games when the US has to push the pace.

“You don’t really say it that way in football, but I think my playmaking skills can hurt the other team,” says Reyna. “Like basketball or football, if someone has a ball, you can create something out of nothing or create opportunities. And I think I can do that, whether it’s a dribble or a pass or a combination – I think I can do a little bit of everything. And that’s exactly what I love.”

His father Claudio did the same. On Friday, Gio wore number 21 instead of number 7, a tribute to his father, a national team legend who wore number 21 for the USA at the 1998 World Cup in France.

It was an intriguing choice. Family heritage has been a constant question for Gio since he was an academy player (his mother, Danielle Egan, also played for the USA on the women’s national team) and it contributes to the high expectations attached to him.

In general, Reyna is reluctant to talk much about his parents or siblings. But earlier this week, as he – despite his initial vows – allowed himself to reflect more deeply on what he’d been through over the past 12 months, he shook his head as he spoke of needing his family to help him through the toughest moments .

“I’ve had some really, really tough days,” says Reyna. “Some really, really, you know – don’t want to do anything, just sit in my room all day. You don’t want to go outside. You don’t want to talk to my friends.”

He shrugs. “It’s frustrating, you know? You miss games, you miss training sessions, you’re back in America when you should be playing in Dortmund.”

To her credit, Reyna says, Dortmund allowed him to return to the US for part of his rehab, which at least helped on the mental side. Being positively surrounded by his family – and not having to see everything that is happening in Germany up close without him – allowed him to focus on what he needed to do rather than what was missing. Berhalter, who checked in regularly, said he learned very quickly that Reyna had a strong preference for how their conversations should go.

“He was one of those guys who, after a while, didn’t want to talk about his injury at all,” says Berhalter. “His eyes were forward. That was it.”

Now the question is how Reyna avoids what he (and everyone around the US team) fears: a relapse. Another knock. Another run where he stops.

Reyna says he’s been constantly working on strengthening his legs throughout his rehab process, but he doesn’t plan to change his style or approach once he’s on the field. He wants – and has been waiting – to be the driving force that the US will need in Qatar.

“I played in the Champions League,” says Reyna. “And the only thing that’s really been on my wish list as a kid – ever since I started watching football – is to play in a World Cup with the USA.”

He laughs. “It hasn’t really caught on yet,” he says. “I’m sure it will probably be closer to the first game, but I’m just so excited. It will be a great experience for all of us.”

https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4753024/reyna-wont-dwell-on-injuries-hes-too-focused-on-qatar-22 Reyna won’t dwell on injuries. He’s too focused on Qatar ’22

Emma Bowman

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