AL RAYYAN, Qatar – It’s the story surrounding the U.S. men’s national team that Gregg Berhalter wishes would stop being talked about.
The curious case of Giovanni Reyna.
The 20-year-old winger has been a hot-button topic since before the World Cup began, and not by his own doing. Reyna – the closest thing to U.S. Soccer royalty as the son of two-time U.S. World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and former U.S. women’s national team player Danielle Egan – is one of the brightest young stars on a team full of bright stars. He figured to play a huge role for the Americans in Qatar, but has been mostly absent from the field so far.
As the U.S. faces World Cup elimination on Tuesday in its third and final group stage match against Iran at Al Thumama Stadium (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App), a question lingers: What’s the deal with Reyna?
The Americans have to win Tuesday to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. Iran, on the other hand, only needs a tie to move onto the round of 16 thanks to a 2-0 victory over Wales on Friday.
Berhalter’s starting lineup has been mostly the same through two games, except at striker. Josh Sargent started against Wales and Haji Wright got the nod against England. There’s a belief that Jesus Ferreira, the third true striker on this squad, could start against Iran.
Berhalter was asked on Monday how he would assess the play of his center forwards so far, and if he would consider playing Reyna in that role to give Iran a different look. Berhalter responded by saying that Sargent had a good chance in the near post against Wales and Wright was effective against England. He acknowledged his team could have been better in the penalty box, but “it’s up to the rest of the group to give them quality service so that they can finish off some opportunities.”
As far as Reyna goes, Berhalter had this to say: “I think in terms of alternatives at the striker position, we are comfortable with the three that we have. We haven’t necessarily thought about putting Gio in there or Christian [Pulisic] there or Timmy Weah there or Jordan Morris there. We’ve been more focused on the three that we have in camp.”
The 6-foot-1 Reyna is a dangerous attacking player when healthy. He’s a smart and technical forward with brilliant ball skills and was the youngest American to appear in the UEFA Champions League in 2020 (then 17), breaking the record formerly set by Pulisic. He’s widely considered to be one of the greatest talents that U.S. Soccer has ever had.
Over the past year, Reyna experienced injuries that limited his availability for the national team during qualifying and also for his Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund. He played in his club’s final three games before the World Cup break and for all intents and purposes, he was deemed a healthy and fit member of Berhalter’s 26-man roster.
Reyna told reporters that he felt “100% healthy” after the Wales game despite not playing. Berhalter decided to bring on substitutes Brenden Aaronson, Wright, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta while the U.S. led 1-0, and then Morris came on in the 88th minute. Berhalter said that same night that Reyna might have experienced “a little bit of tightness” from a scrimmage earlier in the week against Qatar club team Al-Gharafa SC, and noted they were “building him up and think he can play a big role in the tournament. The question is when.” Reyna then played about 20 minutes in the second match against England.
Asking Berhalter about Reyna’s status has now become A Thing. And the coach appears irritated by the line of questioning. But even former U.S. captain Landon Donovan wants to know what’s going on.
“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’s going on here?'” Donovan said on FOX before the England match. “I’m not sure what the reality is. 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.”
Perhaps all questions will be answered on Tuesday night in what’s arguably the biggest game in U.S. Soccer history. Or perhaps the mystery could continue.
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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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