The New York Red Bulls have scheduled a press conference for Wednesday in which Claudio Reyna, the three-time U.S. World Cup star, is set to announce his retirement from soccer. Still only 34, Reyna has been dogged by chronic injuries in recent years, and yet as I think back on Reyna’s career there are plenty of memorable moments that come flashing back.
Like 1999, when Reyna became the first U.S. player to take part in the notorious sectarian Old Firm rivalry in Glasgow between Celtic and Rangers. I spent a week in Glasgow covering the game for Sports Illustrated, and I remember being impressed by how much respect Reyna had earned from Rangers fans and teammates during his time there. “There’s nothing like it,” Reyna said of the Old Firm, and he was right. I won’t forget the sight of Reyna celebrating on the team bus after Rangers had clinched a Scottish title at Parkhead for the first time in its history.
Or like 2002, when Reyna made a surprise move to the right wing for the U.S. in its epic World Cup second-round game against Mexico. Under a blazing South Korean sun, Reyna went on a majestic 40-yard run up the right sideline, eluding two Mexican defenders before starting the passing sequence that led to Brian McBride’s first-half goal. The U.S.’s 2-0 victory was the most important win in the history of American men’s soccer, and Reyna was rightly voted to the World Cup’s all-tournament team.
Or like 1993, when I saw Reyna play live for the first time. The occasion was the NCAA semifinal between Reyna’s Virginia (coached by former U.S. coach Bruce Arena) and Princeton (led by current U.S. coach Bob Bradley). Reyna had a mega-reputation already—he’d make the U.S. World Cup team as a 20-year-old a year later—and I was prepared to pick out his flaws. There were none that day. Reyna was the most creative player on the field, spraying ridiculous passes everywhere. Virginia won 3-1 and raised its third straight national-title trophy that year.
There were less happy moments in Reyna’s career: the injury that ruled him out of World Cup ’94 on home soil; the brutal blow to his kidneys by Germany’s Jens Jeremies that kicked off the U.S.’s misery in World Cup ’98; and Reyna’s unfortunate injury/giveaway against Ghana in World Cup ’06 that led to Ghana’s first goal. As for Reyna’s short MLS stay, it’s downright eerie how similar it was to that of Tab Ramos, another outstanding New Jersey-born midfielder who endured an injury-filled tenure after he came back to join his home-state MLS team.
In the end, though, Reyna’s career will be remembered most for its quality. Reyna ultimately played 13 seasons in European club soccer for teams in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Rangers) and England (Sunderland and Manchester City). He earned 112 caps with the U.S., made four World Cup teams and played in three (1998, 2002, 2006). And he did more than any other U.S. product to show European soccer fans that America does in fact produce field players (not just goalkeepers) who are worthy of international respect.
What will you remember Reyna for? And what will his legacy be in U.S. soccer?
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