For more than a year, every time the masterful striker seemed to turn a corner, muscle injuries would halt his unmissable career – a career that sprang from his father’s shadows, Claudio Reina Hall of Fameand perforated the global scene.
Very talented, yes. but permanent?
With the World Cup fast approaching, any severe fall, sign of discomfort or an unexpected absence has raised concerns in Dortmund and the US national team. And so on Saturday, the penalty area result showed Reina entered in the 32nd minute and left before the end of Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Schalke 04.
However, the substitution was not due to injury, but rather part of his club’s carefully orchestrated plan – which had the approval of USA coach Greg Berhalter – to manage his minutes.
Rina, 19, was fine. In fact, he was better than good, contributing to Yusuf Mukoko’s goal in the 78th minute. Two days before the opening of the training camp in the United States, attendance at Dortmund’s madhouse, Signal Iduna Park, included Berhalter and more than twenty American employees.
“They were all the way there” behind the northern goal, Rina said during an interview at Team USA’s hotel on Monday. “If they had asked me before, I would have gotten better tickets for them.”
He added that the group “wasn’t able to come up with a better game”.
It was a reference to the match itself, the rumble of the Ruhr area known as the Revierderby, but it would have applied to what the delegation witnessed from it.
After missing most of the 2021-22 season in Dortmund and the bulk of the World Cup campaign in the US, Reina is close to working full time. He made four Bundesliga appearances as a substitute, scored two goals in a sub-role against FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, and started against Manchester City in that continental competition last week.
He is expected to see some action in the last two US World Cups: against Japan on Friday in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Saudi Arabia next Tuesday in Murcia, Spain.
Barring the big setbacks in the next seven weeks – and that’s always a concern of him – Reina is almost certain to make the 26-man roster for Qatar.
He said, “I’m going there.” “I still let things come over time. It will come. I am so close to being where I want to be.”
Frequent setbacks presented as many mental challenges as physical exams.
“I just got stronger through it all,” Rina said. “It wasn’t just the physical aspects. I worked a lot on everything during the summer and during the rehab process.”
His US teammates say they have noticed a happier and more confident player.
“When [the injuries] “It kept happening and happening, we were so sad for him,” said winger Brenden Aaronson. “I was texting him, telling him to keep going. Seeing his mentality now and seeing him move past it, I think it only made his character stronger.”
Reina has been on the fast track since the age of 17, when he became the youngest American to appear in a Bundesliga match, breaking Christian Pulisic’s record by nearly two months. In the 2020-21 season, he participated in 30 matches, including four in the Champions League, scoring seven goals in all competitions.
The following season was interrupted early due to a hamstring injury in the opening match of the World Cup qualifiers in El Salvador. Multiple setbacks prolonged his absence.
This season, Dortmund implemented a well-thought-out plan, taking care not to rush him again. Late last month, as a last-minute precaution after Reina said he was not feeling well, the club sidelined him for a match against Hertha BSC.
“It doesn’t make sense to risk the next setback,” coach Eden Terzic said after the match. “We will continue to build it cautiously in the hope that it will recover its full energy. We have to learn from the past. We would rather go without him for a match or two than stay without him for months.”
Reina praised the club’s cautious approach, although he said he was “very keen to play every game for 90 minutes”. “Of course, that’s not possible now,” he said. “I’m working on it. I’m not far away.”
He said consecutive apparitions totaling 114 minutes over five days last week was a “good sign”.
After Reina’s impressive performance against Copenhagen two weeks ago, Terzic shared his excitement with Dortmund about Reina.
“One can see the joy” in the Reina match, he said. “It’s incredibly cool the way he speeds up the game and brings in his creativity.”
Reina’s next step is to increase his playing time with Dortmund and remain injury-free ahead of the World Cup, which would be his first on the football scene after his father appeared on four US lists between 1994 and 2006.
Younger Rina remembers growing up in a New York suburb and browsing through the “big bag of shirts” his father got through post-match swaps in the Premier League. The group includes Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney.
The most valuable jersey for Gio Reina was from French superstar Kylian Mbappe, which he received after a match in the Champions League round of 16 in 2020.
“There were no fans, so it was very easy to talk to people,” he explained. “Our teams got into a fight. I was playing right wing and he was the left wing. We were on the other side of the fight. We didn’t really run and get involved. So during the fight I asked him, ‘Hey, can I get your shirt later?’ He said, ‘Yes for sure.'”