Virginia's Reyna has shot to make World Cup team

January 14, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

If the 22-man squad the United States takes into the 1994 World Cup includes a player currently in college, Claudio Reyna would be the man.

The U.S. Soccer Federation opened its national team training site in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Monday, but many who figure in its World Cup plans are overseas. Recent national team standouts, such as John Harkes and Eric Wynalda, are among the 37 Americans working in Europe alone.

Then there's America's youngest headliner, Virginia sophomore midfielder Reyna, who's only 19. He'll be at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel this afternoon for the awarding of the Hermann Trophy, which goes to the best college player in the country.

The Hermann Trophy will be given against the backdrop of the 46th annual convention held by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. UCLA goalkeeper Brad Friedel and Davidson forward Rob Ukrop are the other finalists, but Reyna is expected to complete a sweep of national honors after already being recognized by the Missouri Athletic Club and Soccer America.

Reyna's prodigious skill and accomplishments have fueled speculation that he'll be the youngest member of the U.S. World Cup team next year. Reyna, who declined an offer to join FC Barcelona after a graceful show at the 1992 Olympics, said he is in no hurry to turn professional.

"As of right now, I'll be playing for Virginia next fall," said Reyna, who nonetheless wants to be on the national team for the first World Cup that will be held in the United States. "That would be great, but I don't want to rush into it. I don't want to sign with the national team now, and take an offer that isn't that appealing.

"I haven't talked to Bora [Milutinovic, the national coach], but everyone tells me he's interested. I'm not in any rush. Look, I'm young enough to play in the next two [1998 and 2002] World Cups. The first six months of last year were crazy, and I'm coming off a packed year of soccer."

Reyna, whose creativity lifts his teammates and leaves the opposition behind, is accustomed to an accelerated agenda. In addition to leading Virginia to its second straight NCAA title last month, he spent much of the spring and summer with the U.S. Olympic squad. He turned 19 the week the Olympics opened. He was also the youngest player on the U.S. Under-23 that won the 1991 Pan American Games and before that, led the Under-16s past Brazil in the 1989 Youth World Cup.

St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey was 66-0 with Reyna, and he was the first two-time Player of the Year on the Parade High School All-America team. His first soccer lessons were provided by his father, Miguel, who played in the Argentine First Division.

"Claudio's father had a tremendous influence on him, and you could see early on he was an exceptional player," said Virginia coach Bruce Arena, who first saw Reyna perform as a ninth-grader at a regional camp. "His first touch on the ball and vision are exceptional, and I haven't seen it from anyone else at this level."

Arena had two other Virginia stars from New Jersey, Harkes and goalie Tony Meola, turn professional early. The national team is under different management, but there's a positive precedent in Meola, who played for the Cavaliers in 1989, then was the U.S. goalie in the 1990 World Cup.

"Claudio needs another year to grow mentally, physically, and then make a decision about his future in December," Arena said. "If the World Cup team doesn't want him, he'll be in position to go overseas."

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