Reyna to lead soccer teaching development in US

Claudio Reyna has been given one of the toughest tasks in

soccer: boosting youth programs in the United States up to the

level of world powers.

“We’re not sitting here and saying we were motivated by

yesterday’s performance and quickly hired Claudio to produce

another Lionel Messi,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil

Gulati said Wednesday. “That’s his second charge. We’re going to

give him a few months to do that.”

Gulati and Reyna know full well it will take years if not

decades for the U.S. to catch up. The United States has never won a

FIFA men’s outdoor title – even at the youth level – and hasn’t

even reached the World Cup semifinals since the first tournament in

1930.

Reyna will formulate curriculum for players, coaches and

referees in his new job as the USSF’s youth technical director,

plans aimed at teaching the sport to 6- to 12-year-olds. The U.S.

has never had a star at the level of Messi, the current FIFA player

of the year who scored four goals Wednesday for Barcelona to knock

Arsenal out of the European Champions League.

Born in Argentina and now 22, Messi joined Barcelona before he

was a teenager.

“At the youth level we have a gap to close,” Reyna said.

A former Hermann Trophy winner known in Europe as “Captain

America,” Reyna made 112 appearances for the United States from

1994-2006 and played for Bayer Leverkusen (1994-97), Wolfsburg

(1997-99), Glasgow Rangers (1999-2001), Sunderland (2001-03),

Manchester City (2003-07) and the New York Red Bulls (2007-08).

Since his retirement as a player, the former midfielder received

his coaching license and started a club in Westchester near his

home in Bedford. At his own expense, he traveled to Ajax Amsterdam,

to Coverciano and Empoli in Italy and to Argentina, where he has

relatives, to speak with development coaches.

He recently saw an FC Dallas youth team compete at tournament

with Ajax, AC Milan and Liverpool.

“It wasn’t surprising that they were clearly behind and

finished in last place,” he said.

He said it comes down to the quality of instruction.

“Everyone thinks in Brazil they just sort of pop off of the

favelas and they all of sudden make the Brazilian national team.

It’s not the case,” he said. “They go through a club

system.”

Reyna said U.S. needs to develop quick ball movement and

understand the game better from an early age. He said American

youth soccer didn’t prepare him to become a professional, and

called playing in Europe the equivalent of a Master of Soccer

degree.

He also criticized the officiating at the American youth level

for leaving players unprepared to face the rest of the world. U.S.

referees call far too much and American players are shocked when

they first experience physical play abroad, even on youth

clubs.

“We have a long way to go,” he said.