Friday 01 November 2019, 12:41

Reyna: A family affair in Brazil

  • Giovanni Reyna following in his parents’ footsteps

  • The entire family is in Brazil for the FIFA U-17 World Cup

  • USA need to win against the Netherlands

Giovanni Reyna is the star player and captain of the USA U-17 team currently competing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019 in Brazil.

If the surname sounds familiar, there is a good reason for that. Giovanni’s father Claudio played in Europe between 1995 and 2007, with stints in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, England for Manchester City and Scotland with Rangers. He won 114 caps for the USA national team and played at four FIFA World Cups™. As if that were not enough, Giovanni’s mother is Danielle Egan, also a former USA international.

"It’s obviously something special to follow in my parents’ footsteps," the younger Reyna said proudly in an interview with "Our entire family is soccer mad,“ he added – so much so, that they have travelled to Brazil to cheer him on throughout his World Cup adventure.

As well as his parents, his 12-year-old brother Joah-Mikel and 10-year-old sister Carolina have also made the journey to support him. When chants of "USA! USA!" rang out around the Estadio Kleber Andrade for Giovanni’s first two matches, there is a good chance that the Reyna family were leading the chorus.

If the Stars and Stripes are to ensure that their journey to Brazil does not come to a premature end, they need to win their third Group D game against the Netherlands to have a chance of qualifying for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams. USA are still hurting badly from their 4-1 defeat at the hands of Senegal and their goalless draw against Japan – and not just because of their meagre points haul.

"I injured myself slightly at the end of the first match and had some pain for a few days afterwards, so the coach and I decided that I shouldn’t start against Japan," Reyna explained. The captain and star player’s confinement on the bench undoubtedly affected his team’s play. Luckily, USA’s No10 was brought on as a substitute shortly after half-time and breathed new life into the American attack.

The 17-year-old midfielder’s qualities have been undisputed for some time now, even beyond the United States’ borders. He emulated his father again last summer by signing for German club Borussia Dortmund. "Gio is a fantastic talent with huge potential who already has plenty of confidence," former BVB star Jorg Heinrich said in praise of the youngster.

The former Dortmund assistant coach and current club ambassador added: "Reyna’s talent is similar to that of Pulisic, and perhaps even slightly greater."

For those who may not remember, Christian Pulisic arrived at Die Schwarzgelben as a youth player before blossoming to become a star. Last summer, the American moved to Premier League club Chelsea for more than €60 million.

Reyna is now also getting a chance to test himself against the big boys, earning plenty of recognition in the process. "Physically, he’s already very mature," goalkeeper Roman Burki said in astonishment after their first few days together during the BVB’s US tour a few months ago, where Reyna picked up his first few minutes of playing time with the first team. "You don’t realise that he’s only 16 years old. He’s a very robust player, and he knows what it’s all about."

Giovanni Reyna in the words of others

"Gio is already very good and he made a big impression. He doesn’t have any difficulties with the kind of football we want to play." BVB coach Lucien Favre

"For a kid of 15 years old, he has this physical presence and his game understanding is really good. He can score goals and he understands the demands of the game tactically." Patrick Vieira, Reyna’s former coach a year ago

"He’s much more of an athlete than I was, much more of a goalscorer. He’s very technical and has a good feel for the game. Danielle was a great runner – and he’s a runner." Dad Claudio

Gio’s footballing skills are not the only way in which he seems more mature than many of his contemporaries, something which might be explained by a tragic chapter in his past. When he was nine years old, his older brother by four years, Jack, died of cancer. "It was the worst time of my life so far, and it will probably stay with me for the rest of my life," he reflected. "I think that period helped me to grow up."

"The evening after Jack died, Gio told me: 'I’m never going to be a good soccer player now, because my big brother taught me everything,'" his mother Danielle recalled in an interview with Sports Illustrated about that time.

Today, Giovanni finds motivation in his loss. "He’s the reason I’m here today, so I want to make him proud too." He will get another chance to do that on Saturday, when the team with the most World Cup appearances meet the European champions. "If I score a goal, I’ll dedicate it to my brother."