FIFA Men's World Cup
2022 World Cup qualifying: Giovanni Reyna's return boosts USMNT
FIFA Men's World Cup

2022 World Cup qualifying: Giovanni Reyna's return boosts USMNT

Updated Mar. 27, 2022 7:40 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Even as the injury list grew for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the days before their final three qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, there was a welcome and reassuring sight Monday night at the USMNT’s Houston hotel.

Six months after his last U.S. appearance, Giovanni Reyna is finally back.


With three other key players — Sergiño Dest, Weston McKennie and now Brenden Aaronson, who was ruled out Monday due to a knee issue — sidelined for crucial matches against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, Reyna's return couldn’t come at a better time.

Reyna is still only 19. He’s also the USMNT's most talented attacker after Christian Pulisic. And his country has missed him dearly throughout qualifying, with the son of two-time U.S. World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and Women’s National Team winger Danielle Egan limited to just the first of the Americans' 11 matches because of a hamstring tear.

"It was really hard being out, just not playing for that amount of time," Reyna told reporters Tuesday. "I was staying up late, 3 or 4 a.m., watching the games in Germany. It definitely motivated me to try to be back as soon as possible."

Reyna went the distance Sunday for Bundesliga team Borussia Dortmund, his first 90-minute outing for club or country since the USMNT’s qualifying opener in El Salvador in September.

An injury setback last month almost put his participation this window in doubt. But even before Aaronson and Dest (hamstring) had to withdraw from the roster, Reyna was determined to return in time to help the U.S. reach the global stage for the first time in eight years. With Aaronson, Dest and McKennie unavailable, his presence this month becomes that much more important, both on and off the field.

"We’re thrilled to have Gio back," defender Walker Zimmerman said. "It’s all of our goal to qualify for the World Cup, so knowing the kind of guy that he is, he’s champing at the bit to make a big impact in these three games. And we’re gonna need it. He’s the kind of guy who can change a game."

Still, it remains to be seen how much Reyna can contribute following nearly six months on the sideline. His ability isn’t in question. His fitness, understandably, is.

It doesn’t help that this month’s first test comes south of the border Thursday. The Americans will travel Wednesday from their training base in Texas to the 7,400-foot altitude of Mexico City, where the USMNT are winless in 19 qualifiers all time. 

With two more pivotal contests in the days afterward, it isn't realistic to expect Reyna to log every minute of all three games. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter admitted as much after naming his squad last week. If Reyna is to start any of the three, odds are it will be the must-win tilt against Panama on Sunday in Orlando (7 p.m. ET, FS1/FOX Deportes/FOX Sports app).

"There's definitely going to be time management this camp," said Reyna, who acknowledged that it will be several weeks before he’s 100 percent fit. "I've talked to Gregg about it, and we'll figure it out as it goes along, in terms of what we need in what games, whether it's better to come in [as a substitute] or start."

There’s also the question of where Reyna plays. He has been deployed almost exclusively on the right wing for Berhalter since making his international debut in late 2020. But he has manned more of a central playmaking role when available this season with Dortmund, including last Sunday.

With standout two-way midfielder McKennie (broken foot) absent and the U.S. deeper on the wings even without Aaronson, moving Reyna inside could be an option for Berhalter, depending on how Reyna performs in training beforehand.

"I wouldn't rule out Gio being able to play there," Berhalter said. "The issue is just his rhythm, his fitness, his game time in the last five months. Eventually, I think it's a position he can play, and we'll have to see if it happens in this window."

If it does, Reyna will be ready for the challenge.

"I'd feel perfectly comfortable playing there," he said. "My favorite position is probably through the middle. Obviously, Weston does a lot for the team. But I can try to fill his shoes if I need to."

Wherever he lines up, off the bench or not, Reyna will be a focal point for an attack that needs the help. The U.S. have scored more than two goals in a match just twice so far in qualifying, both times against last-place Honduras. While Reyna missed the 2-0 victory over El Tri in November, he did score against Mexico in June’s Nations League final, which the U.S. won 3-2.

Reyna won’t necessarily be counted on to repeat those heroics Thursday, of course. But his presence alone could be enough to give his depleted team a needed lift. After being without him for so long, whatever he adds will be a bonus.

"Having him in any capacity is a boost to our team," Zimmerman said. "I know he’ll be able to help us."

One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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