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12 Yards Out: Q & A With Claudio Reyna

It's one against one, and the glory or blame is yours to claim. The result - witnessed by the world - reveals a great deal. That's the premise behind Center Circle's latest feature, 12 Yards Out. We'll take current or former U.S. National Team players and put them on the spot, ask provocative questions and let the chips fall where they may. Their answers promise to be funny, personal, and just like a PK ... unexpected.


1) You're about to play in your 100th game in the English Premier League [Nov. 18 v. Fulham]. Had you ever envisioned that in your career you would play that many games in the EPL?

Claudio Reyna: "Not really. I really never keep track of those things, but it's a nice accomplishment. I came over before MLS started, and I would have been happy to play anywhere in Europe. As the years went on, it became a league I wanted to play in. It's nice to reach that number. It's a great league, and it's always a challenge to get into whatever team you're going to be in. Great players and great clubs."

2) With the benefit of some time and perspective, what's your take on the USA's performance in the 2006 FIFA World Cup?

CR: "I think everyone felt disappointed because we had the chance to do better. Looking back, I think more than anything the first game didn’t give us a good foundation to build off. For different reasons, some players didn’t show up that day. It's as simple as that. As a whole, the mentality of the team wasn't as together and as collective as 2002. The talent was there. We bounced back and played a great game – a strange game – and wound up tying the eventual world champions, which I think we can be very proud of. We went into the last game in a good position to get through and we didn’t do it, but I think it's disappointing because of the expectations. Even though it was the group of death, within the team – and it shows how far we've come – we wanted to get out of the group. But losing the first game 3-0 really put is in a difficult position, and we had to approach the next two games with caution because we had given up one point and were minus-three in goals. It was still an amazing experience in Germany. It was a great learning experience for the younger guys who will have a chance to play in a World Cup again. These opportunities come by really quick, so you have to make the most of it, and make sure that not only one month before the tournament, but a year before you have to start preparing and do that little bit extra to get ready for a major tournament. I think we lacked a little bit of that."

3) Now that you're on the outside looking in, who do you think the U.S. should be looking at as the next coach of the national team?

CR: "I think they have to look at someone who comes in and really shakes up the players; someone that will command respect immediately. I think the most important thing is that there are no players who feel comfortable within the national team setup. People need to learn – and the coach needs to reiterate it – that it's a privilege and an honor to be selected to play for your national team and it's not something you expect to happen. So every time you are selected to come in, it's something major. We need a bit of structure back in the team. We have a lot of really good young talent coming through, and I think someone having a strong personality and someone who puts their foot down and gets a little discipline within the team is what's needed more than anything."

4) You've spent your entire professional career in Europe. Would you like to end your playing days in the U.S.?

CR: "Yeah, it's something I'd like to do. I never really put a timetable on it. Any player my age knows you go through a career and you can never really predict anything. You take it year by year, and make decisions as you go along. I’ve loved every place I've been to and every club; for different reasons you get to a point where you think about it. I’d love to play in front of friends and family. I have two boys, and we’re expecting a third in February. Danielle and I want to raise our kids back in the States."

Just so happens that most of your family lives in New Jersey. Can we read anything into that?

CR: (laughs) "I have family all over, but it would be nice. That's where I grew up playing. In a perfect world that would be nice. The new stadium is just around the corner from where I went to high school and where I played my club soccer when my dad was my coach. He just retired, so there'd be nothing to hold him back from coming to every game, and probably every training session. If I get to choose, it would be nice to go there."

5) Is it true you wore a green sweater to your first day of training at Rangers?

CR: "Yeah, it is. I don’t know if it was the first day. It was pretty funny. It was dark green, and one of the Scottish players, Ian Ferguson, who is a life-long Rangers supporter, took notice of it. He said something to me in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek manner, but I kind of got what he was saying. In no way was green permitted, and as I looked around the following weeks I saw that no players wore anything green, or would even drive a green car. I learned my lesson pretty good. I realized right away how big the rivalry between the two teams was. To be honest, it was one of the only green things I owned. I decided I'd never wear that sweater again as long as I was in Scotland. Pretty sure I haven't worn it since."

6) What is the most memorable match you took part in?

CR: "That’s hard. There have been so many great games. I think beating Mexico in the World Cup was just amazing. Our rivalry has gotten so big, and to play them in the World Cup and to beat them in the second round was a great game. Also, when we qualified for the World Cup when we played Jamaica just after 9/11 – [that] was really special for everybody. How that whole day went from us needing a win just to keep it going to, as results turned out everywhere else, that we qualified was an amazing moment. Probably every Rangers-Celtic derby game can be thrown in there. It's as unique an experience as you will get as a soccer player. I’ve been pretty lucky to play in some big derbies, but that one is above all."

7) The best teammate you've ever played with at a club level?

CR: "Bernd Schuster at Leverkusen. I had just come over, and he was 33 and just coming back from Spain spending 13 years at Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid. He was the only player to win titles at all three teams. He was far and away the best player on our team, and one of the best in the Bundesliga. His passing, his vision and everything...I was 20 at the time and I was in awe watching him in training every day."

8) For years you had been criticized for not scoring more goals for the national team, or not being a true 'Number 10'. Do you think Americans really understand what your qualities on the field are?

CR: "Yes and no. For people who really knew the game and saw my impact for the team, I think I was always respected. You get people who are into stats and think that's the most important thing, or doing things like tricks or whatever. Purely simple soccer is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, and the people who like the way I play realize that I make it look so simple when it’s the hardest thing to do. Playing in the center of midfield with this team, there have been different roles throughout my career. There were times where I could get more forward, but I think in the end the most important thing – and all my teammates always realized this – is that all I cared about was the team being successful. Sometimes I perhaps would play too defensive for that reason, but it was always with the team in mind. That's how I’ve always been. From when I was young, even if I could score loads of goals in games I was never really interested. I'd rather have other guys score. It's my makeup as a person. You can't change the way you are. I never saw myself as a 'Number 10', because that type of player is less and less needed in the world of soccer. As soon as I came over to Germany, there was so much talk of how the 'Number 10' position no longer exists. I quickly had to learn how to defend more, and become more of a two-way player. That's what I tried to do. At the end, the most important thing is trying to win."

9) What makes a good team captain?

CR: "You have to have the respect of the players more than anything. If you don’t, you have no chance. I think I did, and that's important. It was easy for me as captain. Bruce set the tone and the players all worked hard. You always have a few other players who help out in leadership roles. It's important that you set a good example more than anything. From the moment you arrive into camp, you have to be a good professional and a good role model. If the captain isn’t, it could set a bad example for the squad. You have to train hard every day, and of course with age and experience, you have to lend advice to players. I was never a screamer, but I always spoke to every player and made them feel welcome, whether it was their first cap or their 60th cap. I tried to give them encouraging tips or advice on upcoming games, opponents, or how to fit in the group. I enjoyed the captaincy. It was always an honor."

10) Considering you were given the name "Captain America," what kind of things have fans sent you pertaining to the comic hero? Anyone give you an actual full Captain America outfit?

CR: "I got a few things sent through to sign. I don’t know what magazines they came out of, but they had the comic book guy in the same picture as me. The British press put a tag on me in Glasgow, and it kind of stuck. A lot fans said that to me, and do to this day. I just kind of had a laugh with it. The captaincy is a big thing to me, but it’s a huge thing in Britain to be a captain of your club team or country. A lot of coverage comes from it, so when I was captain of the U.S. team a lot of it came to me. And no, I have never worn a Captain America outfit. Maybe next year for Halloween."

11) What are the next steps the U.S. has to take in order to continue its growth at the international level?

CR: "People need to realize it takes time, but you get a crack at it every four years. In 2002, we were unlucky not to get to the semifinal and then we get knocked out of the first round. It’s a constant battle to keep producing players. I think the youth development is important. They are getting a good grip with a lot of players playing in MLS at a young age. They are kind of fast-tracked to be pushed to play with older players, which is important. Entering tournaments like Copa America is something that will help players to develop. Some of them like doing the European route which is important, but it’s important that they play when they come to Europe. A lot of players can develop in MLS as well. In such a short time, the country has improved as good as very few others around the world as far as developing a national team. We have to continue to build on that.”

12) How come you don’t have an accent like some of your fellow Americans who have spent less time across the pond than you have?

CR: "One reason is the second I would do it, my wife or numerous friends of mine would hammer me, so I learned pretty quick not to pick up an accent, or even some English words for that matter. Saying that, I don’t even have a bad Jersey accent. When I went to college there were a lot of guys from Jersey down at UVa that had this awful Jersey accent or New York accent, and I never picked it up. I made sure that if I even came close to changing, I fixed it right away."