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Claudio Reyna

Reyna Remembers: Former U.S. Captain Recalls Taking the Field after 9/11

On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States Men’s National Team faced a vital World Cup qualifier against Jamaica. Having lost their last three, a victory was critical to ensure the USA’s chances of reaching the 2002 FIFA World Cup. There also remained the slim possibility that the U.S. could advance on that day if a series of results went in their favor. But the U.S. players and coaches carried a much bigger responsibility.

This would be the first time a team carrying the banner of the United States would play in international competition since Sept. 11, a day of national tragedy that burdened the entire country. U.S. captain Claudio Reyna remembers the moment.

“It was a very emotional time for our whole country. In my lifetime, no tragedy has touched me like September 11,” said Reyna. “I grew up in New Jersey, and I could see the Twin Towers from my front steps on a clear day. Of course the people who lost family members are the ones you immediately think about. On that day, for us as players we wanted to give something back to the country.”

Hours before kickoff, the U.S. began its attack on Afghanistan. The game, originally scheduled to be aired on ABC, was moved to ESPN so the country could follow the events unfolding thousands of miles away. Meantime, U.S. head coach Bruce Arena faced a decision of whether not to tell the players before the match that the war had begun. Ultimately, he decided they deserved to know.

“Bruce Arena had told us that just that day we had launched an attack into Afghanistan so it hit home again quickly,” Reyna recalled. “From a team standpoint, it was the first team representing the U.S. and wearing the U.S. colors after September 11. It was very special, particularly for me being the captain. I remember the pennant that you exchange with the captain of the other team. On that particular day, I didn’t trade it because it had a special engraved 9/11 flag. I left it in my locker. It really is the most special pennant I have. It’s in my office, and it reminds me of that day.”

Two goals from Joe-Max Moore lifted the U.S. to a triumphant 2-1 victory, and with the unimaginable combination of results of Costa Rica and Mexico tying and Trinidad & Tobago beating Honduras on Honduran soil, the U.S. had achieved their goal of qualifying for Korea/Japan. For the U.S. team, it meant something extra.

“In every way it was a special and emotional day,” said Reyna. “In the locker room guys were thinking how crazy it was that things happened the way they did for us to qualify on that day. Even for Bruce as a coach it was a tremendous honor. You are always proud to put on the jersey and represent your country; on that day there’s no doubt it was unique.”

For a player with more than 100 appearances for the United States that included four World Cups and eight years as captain, there are many games which could be counted as the most memorable. For Reyna, the qualifier against Jamaica stands out.

“A lot of times people ask me what is my most memorable game, and to me that ranks right up there if not the most,” Reyna concluded. “A lot of times people assume it will be World Cup games or a milestone game like your 100th cap, but when it’s all said and done that game is one of the most special as U.S. national team players. There was only one mission that day, and that was to win. Hopefully we gave a few people a couple hours of break from what was going on. It was an amazing experience.”