Why was USMNT star Gio Reyna kept out of the World Cup opener? He felt 100%, but Gregg Berhalter felt different
AL RAYYAN, Qatar – The US men’s national team is better with Gio Reyna. That’s what Christian Pulisic said earlier this week. Common sense says so whenever Reyna enters a field. And so, of course, the quizzical looks and questions spread at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on Monday evening when Reyna was not substituted on in the 1-1 draw against Wales in the World Cup opener.
An hour later, Reyna and US head coach Gregg Berhalter gave somewhat conflicting answers to those questions.
Berhalter mentioned “a little bit [muscle] Narrowness that we avoided.”
Reyna acknowledged the tightness but told Emox News that he “definitely feels 100% about today”.
When asked if he was likely to play, he said, “I mean, you never know, you can’t tell if you’re going to play or not, but I was definitely excited to play.”
Reyna, who turned 20 last weekend, has had a hell of a 14 months with muscle injuries. Since returning from two severe thigh strains last summer, he has been back on track at Borussia Dortmund. He wasn’t quite there to break into the World Championship. He “still manages a few things, it will take time,” he said on Wednesday. But he said the same day: “I feel good, I feel strong.”
The month before the World Cup, he had played 66 minutes in a Bundesliga game and three days later 86 minutes in the Champions League. Four days later he played 30 minutes, four days later 62 minutes. He finished with 66, 30 and 45 minutes each on two rest days.
He arrived in Qatar “ready to help the team here”. And his buddies know he can do it. After all, he’s the most touted American in all of men’s football. “He’s a great player. We need him in this team,” said Pulisic on Wednesday. “If he’s healthy, we’ll be better.”
“For a little boy, he’s like a leader on a team,” said goaltender Matt Turner. “I don’t think he knows that anymore, but I can see it in him.”
He was expected to at least come off the bench and make an impression on his World Cup debut. But on Thursday, according to Berhalter, during a scrimmage against the Qatari club Al-Gharafa “you could see that it was a bit tense”.
Reyna had also left a US test match in September after 30 minutes with a torn hamstring. The decision not to use him on Monday, Berhalter said, “was a precautionary measure. And we build it up. And we think he can play a big role in this tournament. The question is when. And hopefully he will be another step ahead on Friday.”
However, Reyna said he was “fine. A little tightness in the last few days. But I played six [multi-game] Weeks in a row with Dortmund before.”
A few minutes later, he upgraded the “OK”: “I feel great. i feel really good … I felt ready to go. But it was fair [Berhalter’s] Decision.”
It was a decision that was perhaps marked by caution, but also by the game situation. Had the USA struggled to beat Wales and gone into the second half stalemate, Reyna might have been used. He was available. In fact, he was among the first players brought on from the bench to get up on the touchline in the first half.
However, USA broke out of the stalemate without him, and then the game didn’t really call for an attacking wizard like Reyna for nearly 50 minutes. It required an all-action nuisance like Brenden Aaronson coming into play as the first sub. It challenged DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta to see a win.
And when Wales equalized after eight minutes plus injury time and the game dragged on, Berhalter felt Jordan Morris and his verticality were in demand.
“At the stage of the game that we were in, we went with Jordan, who we thought could give us something with speed and power,” Berhalter said.
But then he gave the first of two confusing answers about fitness.
The staff “checked yesterday at the last minute that he was okay and I think he will be fine, I can imagine him playing a role against England [on Friday]’ Berhalter said of Reyna. “But today, we thought, given the nature of the game, it’s too early.”