A lingering question as USA preps for Iran: What’s up with Gio Reyna?

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar – It’s the story surrounding the United States men’s national team that Gregg Berhalter wishes he would stop talking about.

The curious case of Giovanni Reyna.

The 20-year-old winger has been a hot topic since before the World Cup started, and not because of his own performance. Reyna, the closest thing to U.S. soccer royalty as the son of two-time U.S. World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and former U.S. Women’s National Team player Danielle Egan, is one of brightest young stars on a team full of bright stars. He figured he would play a big role for the Americans in Qatar, but so far he has been mostly absent from the field.

Reyna, who has 15 games, four goals and one assist since his first call-up in 2020, did not play in the Americans’ opener against Wales and came on in the 83rd minute against England.

As the U.S. faces World Cup elimination Tuesday in its third and final group stage game against Iran at Al Thumama Stadium (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX App Sports), there’s a question: What’s the deal with Reyna?

USMNT’s Gio Reyna on his personal journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup

USMNT's Gio Reyna on his personal journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup

The Americans must win on Tuesday to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. Iran, on the other hand, need just a draw to progress to the last 16 thanks to Friday’s 2-0 win over Wales.

[For the USMNT, the knockout round has arrived early]

Berhalter’s starting lineup has been mostly the same through two games, except at forward. Josh Sargent started against Wales and Haji Wright got the win against England. There is a belief that Jesús Ferreira, the third true striker in this squad, could start against Iran.

Berhalter was asked on Monday how he would rate the play of his centre-forwards so far and whether he would consider playing Reyna in that role to give Iran a different look. Berhalter responded by saying Sargent had a good chance at the near post against Wales and Wright was effective against England. He acknowledged that his team could have been better in the penalty area, but “it’s all up to the rest of the group to give them a quality service so they can end up with some chances.”

Regarding Reyna, Berhalter had this to say: “I think as far as the options at the forward position, we’re comfortable with the three we have. We haven’t necessarily thought about putting Gio or Christian in there. [Pulisic] there or Timmy Weah there or Jordan Morris there. We’ve been more focused on the three we have in camp.”

[Forget tactics and lineups: For USMNT, it’s about having right mentality]

The 6-foot-1 Reyna is a dangerous offensive player when healthy. He is an intelligent and technical striker with brilliant ball skills and was the youngest American to appear in the UEFA Champions League in 2020 (he was 17 at the time), breaking the record previously set by Pulisic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest talents USA Soccer has ever had.

In the last year, Reyna suffered injuries that limited his availability for the national team during the qualifiers and also for his Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. He played in his club’s final three games before the World Cup break and for all intents and purposes was considered a fit and healthy member of Berhalter’s 26-man squad.

Reyna told reporters he felt “100% healthy” after the Wales game despite not playing. Berhalter decided to bring on substitutes Brenden Aaronson, Wright, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta with the U.S. up 1-0, and Morris came on in the 88th minute. Berhalter said later that night that Reyna might have experienced “a little bit of ‘tightness’ after a clash earlier in the week against Qatari club side Al-Gharafa SC, noting that they were “training him and believe he can play a big role in the tournament. The question it’s when.” Reyna played about 20 minutes in the second game against England.

Asking Berhalter about Reyna’s status has become a thing. And the coach seems irritated by the line of questioning. But even former US captain Landon Donovan wants to know what’s going on.

“He goes into this tournament, we’ve all tipped him for the starting line-up and all of a sudden he doesn’t step on the field against Wales and we’re thinking, ‘What’s going on here?'” Donovan. he told FOX before the England game. “I’m not sure what the reality is. He says one thing, Gregg says another. I don’t know, but we need that guy on the field if we’re going to be successful.”

Perhaps all questions will be answered Tuesday night in what is likely the biggest game in US soccer history. Or maybe the mystery could continue.

Iran vs USA preview: Will USMNT make it out of the group stage?

Iran vs USA preview: Will USMNT make it out of the group stage?

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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