As Right As Reyna
Any lingering doubts that midfielder Claudio Reyna is the U.S.'s most indispensible offensive player disappeared last Saturday night in San Jose—and he didn't even play in that evening's World Cup tune-up against Macedonia. Without the playmaking Reyna, who was sidelined by a strained left calf, the Americans were unimaginative and imprecise in a scoreless draw against a team that failed to qualify for the Cup. The good news: Reyna is expected to return to action on Sunday for a match against Kuwait in Portland.
At only 24, Reyna has been charged with directing the U.S. attack, but it took a wise career move last fall to position himself for such responsibility. Instead of staying with German Bundesliga titan Bayer Leverkusen, for which he had played in only five of 34 games in 1996-97, Reyna requested a loan to VfL Wolfsburg, a smaller Bundesliga club in a city best known as the site of Volkswagen's world headquarters. "It was the year before the World Cup, and I wanted to work for a starting spot on the national team," Reyna says. "If I had been on the bench at Leverkusen, it would have been a lot harder for Steve [Sampson, the U.S. coach] to play me."
Since making the move, Reyna has been driving Wolfsburg and the American team with his own brand of Fahrvergn�gen. In Germany this season he scored a goal in each of three matches against powerhouse Bayern Munich as Wolfsburg bucked the odds and avoided relegation to the second division. Meanwhile, Reyna assured himself of a starting role for the U.S. with a masterly one-goal, two-assist performance last month against Austria. "He was given an enormous amount of responsibility at Wolfsburg, and he has brought that confidence to the national team," says Sampson. "He's better now not just at dribbling and scoring goals but also at holding the ball under pressure and finding players behind the defense with precision passes."
Happily settled in Wolfsburg with his American wife, Danielle, and two VW's, Reyna seems far removed from his World Cup disappointment of 1994. Slated to start at midfield for the U.S., he missed the entire tournament with a pulled hamstring and wondered if he would ever get another chance to play in the event that had fascinated him as a boy in Springfield, N.J. Claudio had watched telecasts of the 1982 tournament with his father, Miguel, a former Argentine first division player, and came to idolize the Brazilian scoring magician Zico. "Everything he did on the ball was amazing," says Reyna. "I'd go outside with my brother afterward, and we'd play one-on-one, just banging the ball off the house."
Although he has a year left on his contract with Wolfsburg, Reyna would consider moving elsewhere. "Players are always changing teams after the World Cup," he says. "I'm happy at Wolfsburg, but I'd love to be with a team that had a chance of playing in the European club competitions. When people ask, I always tell them I live in Europe, not Germany."
U.S. Women's Team
Tireless Lilly's Record Run
Kristine Lilly was sweet 16 and terrified when she made her first U.S. team appearance, in China in 1987 "I just wanted to touch the ball without screwing up," she says. Naturally, she scored. On Thursday—11 years, 56 goals and 151 national team appearances (known as caps) later—Lilly was to become the most capped player, man or woman, in soccer history when the U.S. was to play at Japan.
Since her debut, Lilly has missed only eight matches with the national team. What's more, she's easily the Americans' most versatile performer—playing every position but goalkeeper—and, for opponents, the most frustrating to cover. U.S. coach Tony DiCicco tells of a game in 1994 in which Canada's Annie Caron grew so tired of marking Lilly that she finally screamed, "Go ahead, pass it to her! I'm sick of chasing her!"
"Usually, if you're incredibly fast, you can't run for very long, and if you can run all day, you're not very fast," says Anson Dorrance, Lilly's former coach at North Carolina and with the national team. "Kristine is one of the fastest players on the field and she can run all day." She hasn't lost a step, either. Famous for her masochistic individual workouts, Lilly still wins the U.S. team's gut-busting fitness test with regularity.