Much has been made about the players Gregg Berhalter won't have at his disposal during the USMNT's decisive World Cup qualifying window in the next week, but it's important to note one player who will be back: Gio Reyna. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder has missed time on and off this season due to muscular injuries and hasn't appeared for the United States men's national team since picking up a hamstring injury against El Salvador in September.
Reyna has struggled this season, suffering setbacks for Dortmund while also picking up another muscular injury in 2022 that caused him to miss the last qualifying window. But Reyna is back, having appeared in Dortmund's last three matches -- playing 90 minutes in their most recent match, a draw vs. FC Koln. He knows that with three matches in six days his minutes will likely be managed, but the 19-year-old has a lot to offer in what will be his first trip to Estadio Azteca as the United States face Mexico on Thursday night (streaming on Paramount+).
"It was really hard being out, just not playing for that amount of time," Reyna said Tuesday. "In general, not necessarily, just with a national team, but in general, not playing. ...I was staying up late 3, 4 a.m. watching the games in Germany. So yeah, I was definitely motivated to try to be back as soon as possible. Of course, it took longer than I would have wanted. But yeah now I'm back, and I was at the first game in El Salvador, so I understand how difficult games can be, especially away."
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While his Father, Claudio Reyna, has been to the historic stadium, the younger Reyna can't remember having a visit, as he was 3 or 4 when his dad retired from the national team. But this doesn't mean that Reyna doesn't know what the rivalry with El Tri means as he has heard it from other members of the team and has also faced off against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final last June, where he registered a goal and an assist.
Without stalwarts Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson, Berhalter will need more of that from Reyna during this window.
"I'm not really thinking this time I need to score, because we're playing Mexico," he said. "I'm just going to try to play my game. ...I'm not going to try to get anything like that I'm just going to try to help the team in any way possible. And yeah, we'll see if I score it will be great, if I get an assist it will be great, and if I don't either, and we win, it will also be just as great."
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Reyna's minutes will be managed in this window, but some combination of Reya and Tim Weah will need to start games on the right wing. Reyna has played both the wing and as a No. 10 for Dortmund, but so far for the national team, he has played as a right winger in Berhalter's 4-3-3 formation. To cope with injuries, Reyna could operate as a 10 if the formation changes a little due to missing McKennie, but that seems unlikely when the 4-3-3 has created plenty of chances.
Reyna prefers being a central playmaker but his versatility works well for both Dortmund and the USMNT. A Berhalter winger needs to be adept centrally as they're expected to cut inside and either shoot or create chances to take advantage of fullback overlaps in wide areas. Likely linking up with Reggie Cannon on the right, Reyna will spend as much time wandering centrally as he does hugging the touchline to ensure that teams can't get a read on him.
The hope is that with Reyna coming in, he'll be able to fill the creative void left by McKennie and Aaronson to display the potential of the front line. Reyna, Pulisic, and McKennie haven't all played together since the Nations League final but seeing Reyna back should have USMNT fans hopeful not only for this qualifying window, but for better days to come in the future.