Wales Again! Ahead of World Cup Opener, Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna Reflect on 2020 Debut Against WalesPresented by VISA
It's funny how life can work out.
Just ask the U.S. Men's National Team's Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah.
At the age of 17, they made their international debuts in a scoreless draw at Wales on Nov. 12, 2020. Their debuts together were historic in that it marked the first time in the team’s 100+ year history that two players under the age of 18 started the same match for the USMNT.
A little more than two years to the day, they are ready to make their FIFA World Cup debut against the Welsh at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Monday, Nov. 21 (FOX, Telemundo, 2 p.m. ET).
"I guess it's just a pretty big coincidence," Reyna said earlier this week from Qatar. "It's a cool thing. It's come full circle now."
It was the first time Musah had contact with a U.S. National Team. He was born in New York City on Nov. 29, 2002 when his Ghanaian mother was visiting relatives. His family moved to northern Italy when he was an infant before settling in London, England when he was nine. His first experience with the USMNT was an education and a half.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "The thing I got out of it was that the team, not just the players, but the staff and everyone, was really welcoming. It was really nice to see.
"The first time I'm hearing the national anthem walking out ... I had a feeling of a good culture."
Musah, who turns 20 on Nov. 29, when the USMNT meets Iran in its final Group B match, was also eligible to play for Ghana, England and Italy. He decided on the USA.
"A lot of things have happened that are very crazy like me being born in the U.S. and taking a whole trip around the world that I come back to play for the national team ... in my first game against Wales," he said. "It's a very special day. Here we are at the world's biggest stage of football. I'm going to play against them in the first game. So, a special moment."
That 2020 match was played at an empty Liberty Stadium in Swansea, Wales – it was the USMNT’s first match after a seven-month COVID-19 lockdown.
"It was a weird time in the world that kind of trickled into sports and especially soccer at times," Reyna said. "I know it was hard for me to understand and deal with it at that time. It was pretty hard for a lot of us, but it was also the start of a new era for us and an opportunity to bring in a lot of young guys. The fact that we've come so far in the last two years just shows what we're building here."
In the long run, it doesn't matter where you play when you wear your country's colors for the very first time.
"It was just a special day for me and my family," Reyna said. "It's a moment that you wait for and work for your whole life. It wasn't the prettiest game but it was a really good experience for a lot of us young guys."
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter gave both teenagers a thumb's up after he subbed for them in the 78th minute.
Berhalter said Reyna had "fluidity on the ball, getting in good positions that hurt the defense. His defending was a good starting point. Overall, a 17-year-old debuting and he didn’t look like that. It was solid.
"Musah had real composure for a 17-year-old getting the ball on a bouncy field a little bit under pressure. He is able to deal with it and move out of it. I think maybe lacking a little bit of a final movement, final ball that we know he can do. But overall worked really hard and hung in there.”
Reyna and Musah weren't the only USA players to receive their first caps that day. Four others did as well: Johnny Cardoso, Nicholas Gioacchini, Konrad de la Fuente and Owen Otasowie.
Reyna, who turned 20 on Nov. 13, remembered that first Wales encounter as "a pretty tough, interesting game last time so I expect the same. It's not going to be easy. They have a lot of good players."
Qatar 2022 is the first winter World Cup, although the games will be played in the heat. Reyna said it won't affect him at all.
"I try not to let the little things affect me and what I can't control affect me," he said. "I'm here now and the team is here. What else can we do? It's in Qatar. It's in the winter and it's far travel. That's why you come in early. You get used to the heat; you get used to the different air. I don't want those little excuses ... or that negative energy to trickle into the team. We're under the same conditions as everyone else."
Musah is trying to take in Qatar and the World Cup as a player as much as possible.
"So far it's been crazy," he said. "This country is different to any other European country, seeing the buildings. The whole branding of the World Cup everywhere just makes you realize you're actually here. I'm taking all in and trying to enjoy it as much as possible."
Reyna had a slightly different take.
"It’s an interesting place but we're here to play,” he said. “We're here to try to go as far as we can. We have a really good team. We want to try to make a run."
Reyna's father, Claudio Reyna, knows something about making a World Cup run. Claudio is one of the American men to go to four different FIFA World Cups and captained the USA squad at the 2002 (quarterfinals) and 2006 competitions.
"He's really excited for me," Gio said. "He's given me advice, but I'm not going to tell you guys that. I'll keep that to myself."
Monday could be an emotional day for Gio's parents. His mother, Danielle Reyna (nee Egan), made six appearances for the U.S. Women's National Team.
"They'll probably be crying," Gio said, adding that he erases his emotions before kickoff.
"I hope when I walk on, I won't be thinking about anything," he said. "The day and the morning leading up to the game, there'll be some nerves and you'll be anxious to get out there. But once you're on the field, you're on the field. My brain kind of goes blank."
Which means he'll be ready to make his World Cup debut and complete one unique circle against Wales.