With a single sweep of his right boot, Gio Reyna altered the outcome of the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League final.
He has been the most mysterious and contentious member of the American men’s national team for months. He had been the focus of increased attention for 72 hours after the coach with whom he had a falling out and whom his parents sought to bring down was reinstated as USMNT manager. Reyna has maintained her silence despite the raucous sounds outside.
But this week in Vegas, he came to life as he set foot on the immaculate soccer grounds. He demonstrated on Sunday why he is such a crucial component of the USMNT’s future. He led the U.S. to a 2-0 win against Canada and two assists, giving them the championship of the Nations League for the second time in a row.
Reyna, who had his hair dyed blonde, controlled the game from his midfield position with astonishing ease. He controlled traffic with his hands, eyes, and football-savvy, immature brain.
He then used a talent that the USMNT had badly missed while he was away to open a rather closed game. Chris Richards attacked the out-swinging corner he served up to a fantastic far-post position with ferocity.
Despite having physical strength all over the field, the United States has been painfully helpless in corners and free kicks in 2022. When questioned about his comments on the past four years on Friday, Gregg Berhalter, the rehired coach who had mostly decided against playing an often injured Reyna, said as much.
“I didn’t think we were good enough on attacking set pieces in the last World Cup, that’s definitely an area of opportunity,” said Berhalter.
After less than 60 hours, Reyna offered the quick fix. He often made magnificent deliveries that were far more accurate than Christian Pulisic’s ever were. Reyna beckoned his teammates forward and lofted diagonals even from dead balls close to midfield, creating half-chances.
But he also performed magic in plain sight. Thousands of fans inside Allegiant Stadium rose when he sprang forward off of a Tim Weah header at the 34-minute mark, anticipating him to fire. Reyna instead sent a perfectly placed through-ball to Folarin Balogun, who evaded a defender and scored the opening goal for the USMNT.
Reyna then started to feel like himself. He had found his groove and was thinking one step ahead of his 21 classmates. He made passes because he already saw the one that would come next. From midfield out to the left touchline, then back inside to the right, he dipped in and out of gaps. With a freedom Berhalter seldom ever gave him, he floated.
And under Berhalter, who favoured a fierce, athletic “MMA” midfield made up of Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams, he supplied just what the USMNT had so often needed. Structure, protection against harm, combativeness, and control were all supplied, but future innovation was severely constrained.
Reyna only had a 45-minute lifespan. Late in the first half, he received two blows, which caused a calf injury. He moved about on his limp for the remainder of the half before leaving.
From there, his teammates—by far the most talented group in CONCACAF and maybe the finest the United States has ever seen—took over. The back four continued to be reliable. Weah and Pulisic were tenacious and energetic, attacking but also managing Canada’s danger of a counterattack.
However, Reyna had already performed the most important portion of his role.
At the age of only 20, he had already surpassed Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan to establish a USMNT programme record for the most goals and assists in tournament finals.
He had led the USMNT to yet another championship in those 45 minutes, in a few electrifying moments, in a stadium that was only about half full, and he had solidified his position on this squad, coaching conflict and all.
After the game, Pulisic stated, “He’s a great player,” after being doused with champagne. And he will assist us in going ahead. regardless of the coach.
After being given the position of head coach again, Berhalter said on Friday that “work needs to be done” to mend the rift with Reyna. But he vowed to do that task. Reyna demonstrated two days later why Berhalter must.
Berhalter said, “I want to get the best out of him, and we want to get the best out of him. And we are aware that if we can bring out his skills, he would revolutionise this programme.