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.