Salut! Sunderland regulars are used to hearing about Blackcats, an e-mail group that acts almost as our parallel universe, inhabited in no small measure by witty, often wise SAFC supporters (most of whom, curiously, seem rarely to visit these shores). It was a message there that inspired the idea that Robert Simmons‘s second Voice of America column should be devoted to Claudio Reyna. The Blackcats subscriber was mentioning the tragic death from cancer of Claudio’s 13-year-old son Jack and was unaware that a small tribute had already appeared here. He had an additional reason for sadness: a friend’s daughter had worked for the Reynas as a childminder, living as part of the family both in UK & USA and playing a big part in Jack’s early years. Now Robert Simmons adds his own personal reminiscence …
Last month I had the opportunity to go to a Mexican Premier League pre-season match between Club America and Pachuca.
The game was nothing special but something out of the ordinary happened. I was sitting up in the owner’s box of the local club – he was sponsoring the match – and two men slid past me to their seats.
Both were Mexican-Americans and one took a second glance at me and noticing my Sunderland jersey said: “You don’t see many Mackems in America.” I was shocked that someone in the States recognized a Sunderland shirt and then I was even more shocked to hear his next statement: “Claudio Reyna played up there didn’t he?” Not only did recognize Sunderland but he knew a bit of our club’s history.
When I first started to support Sunderland I was pleased to hear that the former US International and national team captain Claudio Reyna was a former player.
Young football players in the States have lots of players from our national team that they can look up to. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard are just a few of the many US players who are having success both with the United States and in Europe right now.
But when I was growing up and playing there was only one man to look up to, and that was Claudio Reyna.
Reyna, better known as “Captain America” was a player who added more flair to the normally dull American team. He was one of only a handful of players who could technically and tactically give us a chance against teams with superior talent.
I’ll never forget the 2002 world cup in Korea and Japan where Reyna led the US team to the quarterfinals where we were knocked out by eventual runners-up Germany.
In our group which included Portugal, South Korea, and Poland we advanced in second place. We narrowly defeated Mexico in the round of 16 which set up our clash with Germany in the quarter finals. Led by our captain we took the game to Germany. The German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was quoted as saying it was the most nervous he had ever been during a match because of the surprisingly strong play from the USA and the fear of being knocked out by such an inferior side.
We ended up losing 1-0 to a Michael Ballack header but our team, inspired by Claudio Reyna, had given the nation something to be proud of. Reyna was one of the five midfielders chosen for the team of the tournament, cementing his status as a top international player.
Reyna now spends his time as the technical director for US Youth Soccer and runs the Claudio Reyna foundation which provides mentoring and soccer training for underprivileged youth in America and around the world.
This is a role he is well suited for as I have personally experienced his generosity and grace. When I was 16 I had the opportunity to train in front of the US national team at their training facility in Bradenton, Florida and Reyna and other members of the team would often jump in with us during training.
He was always talking and giving instruction to us. He was so gracious and generous with his time, taking time not only to help teach us but also to talk and give autographs as well. I know I received just a small taste of what countless others must get to experience in large doses from Reyna.
For me, as an American fan of Sunderland, there is no player from the States other than Claudio Reyna that I would have wanted to wear the red and white of Sunderland.
* From the website of Claudio Reyna’s foundation, http://www.claudioreynafoundation.org/ …
“Claudio played professionally for 12 years in three European countries for five different teams: Bayer Leverkusen and Vfl Wolfsburg in Germany, the mighty Glasgow Rangers F.C. in Scotland, then Sunderland FC and Manchester City FC in the English Premier League. When with Vfl Wolfsburg, he was the first American player to ever wear the captain’s armband in a European league. Before his retirement in 2008, Claudio played his last professional season in United States with NY Red Bulls.
Claudio represented the United States National team in 4 World Cups from 1994 through 2006, serving as team Captain in 2002 and 2006. He appeared 112 times. He was the first American player to be selected to the FIFA All World Cup team for his performances during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea. He also represented the US in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.”
The foundation’s stated aim is “to inspire underserved youth in urban communities with positive experiences through soccer, education and community involvement in hopes of growing healthy bodies, minds and spirits.” Read more about US football – yes, I know what they call it – is at http://ussoccer.com