Virginia Midfielder Claudio Reyna has the look of a young man just awakened from a fitful sleep. He has a tousled crop of black hair, droopy brown eyes and stubble dotting his jawline. He is 5'10" and 160 pounds of thigh and calf, and to enhance his super-cool image, he sports a diamond stud in his right earlobe, a silver loop in his left. It appears that Reyna would not know how to hurry even if he wanted to, which, on the soccer field, he never does. Or at least he didn't on Sunday afternoon in Davidson, N.C., where Reyna unflappably dictated both the tempo and the outcome of the NCAA championship game, a 2-0 throttling of the University of San Diego that gave the top-ranked Cavaliers—who also go by the nickname Wahoos—their second straight national crown.
Having earned a co-championship with Santa Clara in 1989 to go along with its two outright titles, Virginia must now be ranked among the country's best collegiate soccer programs ever. While St. Louis dominated the 1960s and early '70s, San Francisco the late 70s, and Indiana, the last team to win back-to-back titles (in '82 and '83), the '80s, the Cavaliers bestride their sport in an era of more—and more competitive—teams. With a 'Hoos' Who of 10 former or current U.S. national program players on its roster, Virginia overwhelmed Duke 3-0 in the semis on Friday and then outshot the upstart Toreros 17-5 en route to its victory in the final. The Cavs marched forward with purpose and defended with force. "The other thing I'm proud of is we played with some style, some elegance," said Virginia coach Bruce Arena.
That trait clearly belongs to Reyna, a sophomore from Springfield, N.J. Settling the ball and then stroking it forward with a variety of precision passes, Reyna kept the opposition off balance all season, while serving as the hub of Virginia's ball-possession attack. Arena has given him the freedom to run the game as he sees fit. "Claudio has a 38-year-old brain in a 19-year-old body," says Jack Writer, who coached Cornell from 1976 to '88.
But for someone so gifted at sizing up situations, Reyna found himself at sea last July. After his first game in Spain, Reyna, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, was approached by a well-dressed gent who introduced himself as Josep Nu‚Äö√†√∂‚àö¬¥ez, the president of FC Barcelona, the European club champion. Nu‚Äö√†√∂‚àö¬¥ez had a proposition for Reyna: a four-year contract worth between $35,000 and $100,000 annually and a $50,000 signing bonus. There was more: Upon signing, Reyna would be whisked off by limo and then flown to Holland, where he would train with the team's top 22 players under the legendary Johan Cruyff.
As word of the offer spread, Spaniards hailed Reyna on the street and cheered his every touch on the field. He weighed the conflicting counsel of his parents and teammates, wavering and wondering. Could he pack off just like that to a pro career? How much money would he really make? And above all: Was he ready? "One day I wanted to do it, the next day I was coming back to school," Reyna says. "But in the end I just didn't want to regret the decision, and I knew that coming back wasn't a decision I'd regret."
Any bit of uncertainty for Reyna evaporated last weekend at Davidson, where the weather was wintry but the atmosphere perfect. In a cozy hamlet of 3,254, the final four finally found the big-time flavor it had long sought. As first-time host, wee Davidson College (enrollment 1,500) spent more than $150,000 to outfit Richardson Field with a new scoreboard, lights, auxiliary stands and expand the press box. Sellouts both days set an attendance record of 16,300, and $15 tickets were being scalped for—rumor had it—$300. That Davidson was also one of the semifinalists heightened the interest (the Wildcats lost their semi to San Diego 3-2 in overtime). Davidson coach Charlie Slagle said, even in defeat, "This is what college soccer should be like."
The past two finals had been what college soccer should not be like: conservative games ending in scoreless ties and decided on penalty kicks. But San Diego arrived with ample firepower and a skilled forward of its own, senior Chugger Adair, who has attracted the interest of the English club Arsenal. When he was five, Adair underwent heart surgery to repair his atrial septum. One of the first questions he asked after the operation was, "Now can I play soccer?"
Adair now drives the potent Torero attack, which scored at least one goal in each of San Diego's 23 games through Friday. That prompted Arena to say that if no goals were scored in the final, he would jump in nearby Lake Norman.
His risk of hypothermia was finally eliminated in the 70th minute. Despite many opportunities at close range, Virginia had not been able to finish; now substitute forward Nate Friends floated in his own rebound off a sliding save by San-Diego goalie Scott Garlick, ending a scoreless drought of 435 minutes in the last four finals. Eight minutes later Virginia's Erik Imler headed in a cross.
After the game, Miguel Reyna, a former first-division forward in Argentina, professed uncertainty about his son's future at Virginia. "We must sit down now and talk again," he said. Claudio, naturally, was in no rush. "If I go and when I go, it'll be the right decision at the right time," he said. For Reyna, it always is.
Imler (5) celebrated the game's first goal minutes before scoring the game's second.
Reyna said no to big bucks in Europe, and his decision paid off handsomely for Virginia.