Claudio Reyna on his son Gio in the Bundesliga, America's youth soccer future, and the Austin FC project

Last December, Claudio Reyna  became Sporting Director of 2021 MLS entry Austin FC after serving that role for NYCFC since its launch in 2013. He was U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director in 2010-13.

The Hall of Famer who was part of four U.S. World Cup teams started his pro career in Germany in 1994 at age 21. Reyna's 17-year-old son Gio, who played on NYCFC's U-18/19 Development Academy national championship team in 2018, joined Borussia Dortmund last year and has already made eight Bundesliga appearances. We spoke with Claudio Reyna in the wake of MLS announcing its youth development league membership and ahead of the Bundesliga's return, which on Saturday features the Borussia Dortmund-Schalke 04 Revierderby.

SOCCER AMERICA: How’s your work been preparing Austin FC for its 2021 launch amid the pandemic?

CLAUDIO REYNA: It’s still coming along well. We have delayed some hiring, such as scouts, because there's no competition. But we're moving forward. We’ve got lots of calls, video conferences, talking about players, talking about staff, recruiting for different positions, on the performance side, the operation side as well as the academy.

SA: How much are you involved in Austin FC’s youth program?

CLAUDIO REYNA: Very much. I work closely with Tyson Wahl, our academy director, and speak to him daily. He's doing a really good job in the first year since we started U-14s. We're adding two more teams.

Youth development is always something I’ve enjoyed being a part of, creating that link between the first team and academy -- to get people to think in the same direction. I believe that there's got to be a continuity from the bottom up and top down.

Starting up a franchise from scratch allows you to do that and gives you an opportunity to really build upon that. It takes time and in a few years you start reaping the benefits. I went through that in New York. Now in Austin, in our own way, we've got to put our own stamp on it. We're really committed to youth development and impacting this region of Texas.

SA: What was your reaction to U.S. Soccer terminating the Development Academy?

CLAUDIO REYNA: I was surprised when I started to hear the rumors because the news a few months earlier was about adding teams. So, I thought that it was going to move forward at least for next season.

A lot of good came from the Development Academy. Certainly, it was a big challenge they took on to run this league 13 years ago. The federation felt they needed to get to that space to really improve the youth landscape and technical development. And it was a very competitive platform and it was good competition.

The landscape certainly changed from when I grew up and when I came back from playing in Europe. And now we’re having another change. We've got to move forward.

It makes sense that MLS is stepping up and is in a position to assume that responsibility, given the amount of investment that has already been made in that space by MLS club owners.

SA: Are there things about the DA that weren't satisfactory that MLS should tweak?

CLAUDIO REYNA: Yeah, absolutely. There are many lessons from the DA and we could make improvements on some things. And some things should be consistent and look similar.

The idea of being inclusive is important, but there's got to be a standard across this league that has to be met. However, we need to be flexible and not overburden clubs that have really good soccer people with unnecessary administrative standards and benchmarks to hit.

That’s the frustration I saw from a lot of clubs in the New York-New Jersey area that I have relationships with. You have a lot of passionate coaches and technical directors -- like you have all over the country – who had to spend too much time behind a desk fulfilling these standards and administrative requirements and that aren't as important in the youth area, especially where we are as a country and where we start now with this league.

So let's be flexible. And if they're good soccer people with great intentions – and they may be a little bit behind in certain organizational areas -- we work with them to make them better.

As the DA evolved I believe it became too strict with the standards to follow.

Claudio Reyna played for Bundesliga clubs Bayer Leverkusen (1994-97) and VfL Wolfsburg (1997-99) before stints with Glasgow Rangers (1999-2001), Sunderland (2001-03), Manchester City (2003-07) and the New York Red Bulls (2007-08). In January, 17-year-old Gio Reyna became the youngest American to debut in the Bundesliga and in February the youngest to American to play in the UEFA Champions League -- a 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in which Reyna assisted on the gamewinner in front of 66,000 fans.

SA: You played hours on end on your own as a child, or stayed later after practice to train more. Something kids don't have time for if they’re driven long distances to and from practice. The key is to create productive environments for players with limited travel?

CLAUDIO REYNA: The pay-to-play issue is complex, but one thing that model has done is created just too many teams with every age group. When I grew up there were teams every other year. You had U-12, U-14, U-16 -- so you were automatically practicing and playing against older players. To create that good competition now, it may need to be for an individual or a specific team -- that you play against older players, older teams.

That's what I mean by doing those kinds of things locally, maybe regionally, depending on where you are in the country. Give the clubs some flexibility on how they want to do that at the different ages from when a kid is 9 to 11 all the way up until he's 18.

SA: From speaking to Gio, what can you tell us about Germany’s response to COVID and the return to play process?

CLAUDIO REYNA: It’s an interesting experience that he's going through, from when they all agreed to take the pay reduction, to returning to training and now returning play.

Now they’re at the stage of having opposition training after individual and small group training without contact, which is not normal.

SA: How’s he been handling it?

CLAUDIO REYNA: Certainly, it's a challenge for him. Only 17 years old, and he just moved into an apartment. It’s been tough. But the players know the script. They know what getting back means for the clubs, what it means for the country.

It has been really well organized from the testing capabilities and to quarantining the players. And this week, leading up to the first game, all being in a hotel together. I think certainly all eyes are going to be on the Bundesliga this week to see how they are going to pull this off.

And if they do, I think it's going to be a positive step forward, but it's certainly different than what any player would expect and experience. But while it’s new for Gio, it’s also new for Mats Hummels, and Marco Reus and Mario Goetze -- and for the opponent and for everyone. I think the players are definitely looking forward to it.

SA: You learned German -- not easy -- quickly. How's Gio's doing?

CLAUDIO REYNA: I’ve been impressed with how much he’s picked up in a short time, especially soccer conversations. He understands when training is being explained and pregame, he gets most of it. They do explain everything in English as well after because of the diversity of the squad. In another 12 months or 18 months, I think he could become really comfortable understanding and speaking the language.

SA: You were 21 when you joined the Bundesliga in 1994 -- after three years at the University of Virginia and being on the 1994 World Cup squad. How different do you think the move to Germany is for Gio?

CLAUDIO REYNA: I can't imagine. When I was 17, I was in a completely different world. What he's doing at his age is remarkable. I was playing high school soccer. He’s essentially a junior in high school and playing in front of 80,000.

Talking to him about my experiences in Germany, how the league is and the culture, I think gave him a good start. But what he's doing on the field is not something I experienced.

SA: Besides the looser foreign restrictions, how different is Bundesliga now?

CLAUDIO REYNA: Besides the amazing stadium upgrade and how it’s grown overall, young players across the league are getting opportunities. Back in 1994, 1995, 1996, it was a league populated with experience, with recent World Cup winners and the average age was much higher than it is today.

If you were 20 or 21 and got some playing time, that was a young player breaking through. And occasionally a teenager got a game, but it was really unheard of. You had to have experience to play and coaches – more old school – looked to the experienced player rather than the youthfulness and energy of young players.

SA: Speaking of young players breaking through, there are some in MLS, but with lenient foreign player restrictions, green-card holders, and the ability to sign affordable experienced foreign players, how confident are you about Austin FC’s first team integrating homegrown players?

CLAUDIO REYNA: I'm very confident because that's part of what we will believe in at the club. We just need to find a balance between having a very competitive first team and being able to infuse it with young talent. But they can't be gifted minutes. You have to earn it.

When foreign players come to our country to play, it raises the level. That's similar to any other league where clubs bring in international players to improve their club.

With international players, our young players see really good standards of professionalism day in, day out. The expectations that some of those players set is really important. You can’t underestimate the value of international players. They don’t just bring the goals and assists on the weekend but also the training habits that our young players look up to and admire.

International influence helps our young players become better professionals. We need to find the balance in Austin. That will be some time in the future because right now we only have U-13, U-14, U-15s, but I absolutely look forward to our first homegrown, local player running out for the first team. It’s what we want to be about as a club.

13 comments about "Claudio Reyna on his son Gio in the Bundesliga, America's youth soccer future, and the Austin FC project".
  1. frank schoon, May 15, 2020 at 9:14 a.m.

    As I'm reading this interview, my doubts on our player development has not changed one iota. The thrust of this interview, as related to player development ,again, centers more on the 'administrative' side of the equation rather than on the technical side for it is the latter that is the MOST IMPORTANT's the ENGINE where our player development begins.  

    Claudio sees the changes for example in relaxing, "not overburden" ,reduce "unnecessary administrative standards and benchmarks" for the coaches. This is the PROBLEM in our player development?...YEAH, RIGHT!!!  I'm little disappointed in Cluadio ,considering his playing backround, to come up with this scenario, although not wrong,lets say, but I expect him to cover more of the 'nuts and bolts' of the game, the field 'perspectives' and what our players need to be more working on....

    I would have loved to have Claudio come out brazenly and stated, for example, " I have told my technical director to tell his coaches and players in this huge hiatus  to have all our players, ,the youth that is, to 'strictly' work only on the 'left' or weak' foot. If there isn't better time to just work 'strictly' on the betterment of their weak leg, I wouldn't know.  

    Can you Imagine, just think for a moment, if every kid since they've been out of school,  and up to now,  have worked on their weak leg at least 1-2 hours a day, and continued, what we would have accomplished in the overall level of development of our youth soccer. By this fall, our level of play, youth wise would be raised a couple several levels, Period. The Europeans would be aghast,knowing what we have just accomplished  during a time of "no soccer", by making their  youth develop their left foot. 

    It's not only Claudio nowhere have I heard anyone, or read in any SA interviews of so many coaches representing soccer organizations anything about of specifically 'emphasizing' this period of hiatus to be DEDICATED to improving the left /weak foot. It is very simple act ,for it doesn't take an administrative act or paid coaches.  NEXT POST.....

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, May 15, 2020 at 10:55 a.m.

    Frank, as to the administrative side, he clearly made the point that the administrative side of club management was a distraction and should not be a priority for youth clubs. ("we need to be flexible and not overburden clubs that have really good soccer people with unnecessary administrative standards and benchmarks to hit.").

    Your point, Frank, is a good one, but Renya is on your side of the issue.

  3. frank schoon replied, May 15, 2020 at 11:09 a.m.

    Bob, being on my side ? I would rather hear him state some harsh facts and wake up the system, after all everyone respects him for experience and backround and he would be a great catalyst for change..

  4. Sean Guillory, May 15, 2020 at 9:16 a.m.

    Claudio Reyna is always forgotten for how great of a player he was for the USA and as an American playing in Europe.  Behind Dempsey but in front of Donavan as the best USA players.

  5. Douglas Smith replied, May 16, 2020 at 9:46 a.m.

    Funny you should mention it -- I had a similar reaction on reading this.  Who is the greatest American player I've seen play?  Ramos vs. Reyna was my first thought, and then Donovan and Demsey.

  6. frank schoon, May 15, 2020 at 9:53 a.m.

    Realize ,the European youth, likewise are not good with their left foot, this is why a player like Wesley Sneyder of Ajax was  so good and stood out for he can pass, shoot ,dribble with either foot. This aspect would  not only aid our game, positional-wise, and speed ball-handling but also in ball movement and tempo, in other words this would raise our game quantitatively. It would raise our standard of play without following strictly 'ADMINISTRATIVE' standards. Bingo!

    As I was taking my hourly walk everyday, I noticed yesterday a high school age soccer player  outside on the field by the tennis courts with his soccer ball. He was kicking a ball against the tennis wall , juggled a couple of times. I yelled at him from a distance and stated, 'why don't you work on your left foot ,'you've wasted 2months , can you imagine how far along  you would have been by now' with your left. He looked at me , yeah, you're right, I've wasted my time. 

    I do agree with Claudio that bringing foreign influences  raises our level of professionalism and play ,although it is at a cost of an American position. But right now at this stage of our player development we need foreigners to show the way, for our kids won't learn these subtle parts of the game from a DA program.  The only way for our younger players is to learn the game by having a good ratio of youth players to older more experienced players, as Claudio states. And that is how Ajax develops their own . What they do is to let him play on the A team and than bring him back to the B team to see how his experience can be applied as leadership qualities on the B team. In other words in the former he learns and in the latter he teaches, forcing him to be conscious of what and why he does things by helping out others...

  7. Bob Ashpole, May 15, 2020 at 10:51 a.m.

    This comment about changing the development model deserves repeating: "The pay-to-play issue is complex, but one thing that model has done is created just too many teams with every age group. When I grew up there were teams every other year. You had U-12, U-14, U-16 -- so you were automatically practicing and playing against older players. To create that good competition now, it may need to be for an individual or a specific team -- that you play against older players, older teams.

    That's what I mean by doing those kinds of things locally, maybe regionally, depending on where you are in the country. Give the clubs some flexibility on how they want to do that at the different ages from when a kid is 9 to 11 all the way up until he's 18."

    I believe that prior to age 16, quality training sessions are more important to development than competitive matches. (Just a function of quality time spent playing with the ball.) The broader age groups make an important difference to training sessions. Doesn't eliminate the best feature of street soccer from organized soccer.

  8. frank schoon replied, May 15, 2020 at 11:06 a.m.

    Bob,To create more teams , means more coaching jobs, more money to be spend by parents..

    Playing with older better players, hmmm, that's sounds of the elements of Mixed pickup/street soccer. But obviously they are asleep at the wheel at the USSF ......But why didn't Claudio state that this particular element is good for youth development, but instead just happen to mention it offhand, in how he grew up playing...That is certainly not the way I would have come across but I would have emphatically said that we need this in our player development...

    Was he trying to be PC and not upset the apple cart ??...I think we need someone with his backround and experience to start opening up...just like Landon D who I find a dissappointment in expounding what is needed in our player development...

  9. humble 1 replied, May 15, 2020 at 11:25 a.m.

    I am in Franks corner, I think it's on the kids to develop the skills on thier time or with trainers and the clubs should train the kids to be part of a team.  Claudio has to be political to survive, but the skills Gio shows, were not developed by a system.  They were developed playing with his dad and on his own.  Surely he's lacked nothing from training, but the training of the club has to be focused on the deveopment of a player in the context of his role on the team.  It is this lack of acknowledgement by the clubs, because they want to take every dime they can from parents, and claim 'development' thas has things upside down in youth soccer.  Do a study of any basketball player in the USA and you will find zero coaches or clubs that taughth them how to dribble, shoot, rebound.  This is all on the player.  When soccer evolves to this realization in the USA, we will start to produce some 'players'.  They can from from rural or city or blighted or rich areas, it doesn't matter, what matters is that they develop their individual skills not the team or the club or the school. 

  10. humble 1, May 15, 2020 at 11:13 a.m.

    Thank you Mike for bring Claudios voice forward.  We are very fortunate to have Rena in Texas.  There have been some big moves recently with Rena in Austin and Ramos in Houston.  With the investment and results that are already recognized at FC Dallas, but continue to produce, and with Rena and Ramos and what is being built in the Rio Grande Valley in southeast Texas they are laying a foundation that will allow more and more youth players the chance to reach the pro ranks and maybe have a shot at the MNT.  Soccer is finally being built up across in Texas.   So many talk about id and development but have not delivered anything.  Across the nation, there is such a paucity of folks that have actually done what Claudio has done, none are more aware of this than guys like Tab and Claudio.  They did it as a players, and now they are doing it to help others.  You gotta like this.  I am sure Tab and Claudio will have their youth working on the weak foot.  Onward!

  11. R2 Dad, May 15, 2020 at 12:46 p.m.

    USSF can't think out of the box, and especially with this virus situation we need fresh eyes and resourceful people. USSF petulantly killed the DA without creating the framework for a successor because they don't care about players and families--we are a distraction away from all the adminsitrative duties they seem to prefer. So now MLS and these lower leagues will have to come up with some structures--through experiment, fail, learn, repeat--to recreate the DA-lite environment. The MLS Youth Development League is not going to suddenly inject dozens of american youth players into MLS--they don't know how to get from A (raw talent) to B (young competent professional). Claudio is now in club management so he's not going affect change and I don't blame him for punching out. Unless there is a 2100 plan to introduce pro/rel into MLS (highly unlikely), the only other way I see youth staying in the US and really develping is if USL grows horizontally & organically way beyond the grasp of MLS while incorporating pro/rel, breaks free of their MLS overlords and challenges for D1 in this country. Only when MLS has competition against  a pro/rel, vertically integrated system that threatens it's existence, will they change because USSF has decided pro soccer is where the money is and the other responsibilities of the sport in this country don't matter unless $ are attached. Our FA should be so much more in this country and we just allow them to pick and choose what they want to do.

  12. Mike McCarthy, May 15, 2020 at 12:53 p.m.

    who gives a shit

  13. R2 Dad replied, May 15, 2020 at 4:30 p.m.

    Exactly. Don Garber is banking on the fact there are a lot more fans like you than me.

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