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 Fahrvergnugen. 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
Soccer's grande dame plans on playing for America at least
through next year's women's World Cup and the 2000 Olympics,
though Dorrance says Lilly could conceivably continue through
the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Games (and amass more than 300 caps
along the way). Not so fast, says Lilly. "That depends," she
says. "I want to get married and have some kids first."
MLS Way of Life
GALAXY MISSING TWO STARS
The Los Angeles Galaxy was 8-0 last week when coach Octavio
Zambrano gathered his players for a meeting. "We will not feel
sorry for ourselves," he said, furrowing his brow. "We have to
deal with the facts, and it's up to us to demonstrate that we
can play." Why would an undefeated team be so concerned? For
starters, the Galaxy had lost Cobi Jones, MLS's coleader in
goals (eight) and assists (seven), to U.S. team duty until at
least the beginning of July.
Unlike most of the world's top leagues, MLS plays its games
during the summer, and management decided it couldn't afford to
shut down in mid-schedule for the World Cup. Some teams will be
hurt more than others--the Columbus Crew loses four of its
stars, the Dallas Burn none--but the club whose fortunes are
hardest to predict is Los Angeles. A notorious Jekyll-and-Hyde
team, the Galaxy has had winning streaks of 12, six and nine in
the past three years, yet began the 1997 season 1-7.
In addition to Jones, defender Dan Calichman, L.A.'s charismatic
captain, will be sidelined until the playoffs or longer after
breaking his right leg against the Colorado Rapids on May 6.
Although the Galaxy won its first game without both players on
Sunday, beating depleted Columbus 4-2, the jury is out on
whether Los Angeles will remain the best team in MLS or
nose-dive. "In an ideal world we wouldn't be playing during the
World Cup," says L.A. defender Robin Fraser, "but that's the
decision the league made, so why cry about it?"
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER GETTING THE NOD After gaining confidence while playing in Germany, Reyna has been put in charge of the U.S. attack. [Claudio Reyna in game]
Q & A
Spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller, an Israeli who now lives near
London, has put his supernatural powers to work for England's
team. He says that last month he planted "magic crystals" on the
field in Marseilles, where England will play its World Cup
opener against Tunisia on June 15 and that he recently spent an
hour infusing the World Cup trophy with positive English energy.
("I even bent it a little!" he says.) We probed his psyche about
the upcoming tournament.
SI: If you can bend spoons with your mind, why can't you bend
free kicks into the goal?
Geller: I can, and many times I do. I'll stand by the pitch,
activate my abilities and bend the ball into the net.
SI: Right. Tell me, those magic crystals are really just Sea
Monkeys, aren't they?
Geller: No, they're 40-million-year-old rock crystals from Brazil.
SI: So that's why Brazil is so good.
Geller: That I don't know. But I can say that when Italy's
Roberto Baggio missed the penalty kick in the last World Cup to
give Brazil the title, it was because 70 million Brazilians were
using their telepathic powers against him.
SI: How will the U.S. players do?
Geller: They will qualify for the second round. If they use me,
they'll go beyond that.