More than the name: Why Giovanni Reyna might be the best of a deep NYCFC pool
FRISCO, Texas – A new face with a familiar last name has taken his first steps into the youth soccer limelight.
New York City FC was deadlocked at 0-0 with mighty Mexican club Tigres UANL as regulation time ended in the championship final of the second-tier Premier Division at Generation adidas Cup, MLS’ top youth competition. Just minutes into extra time, Giovanni Reyna donned the hero’s cape, surging forward in transition on a solo dribble that forced his defender to trip him in the Tigres penalty box.
Calmly waiting as the event’s Video Assistant Referee pilot program evaluated, then confirmed the decision, Reyna rifled home the spot kick he’d earned for what turned out to be the winning goal at Toyota Stadium.
The moment capped an exhilarating week for the 14-year-old son of U.S. men’s national team legend and current NYCFC sporting director, Claudio, turning heads across American soccer and underlining the startling progress of NYCFC’s fledgling academy program.
MLS’ live streaming of many GA Cup games made it easier than it used to be to catch the pulse of the young talent on display. And with his propensity for highlight-reel goals, no one benefited more from that than Reyna, whose last name has already put him under something of a microscope in youth circles.
Perhaps more importantly from a developmental perspective, both he and his team are progressing by leaps and bounds in an academy setup that’s much more advanced than you might expect from a club that only opened its doors in 2015.
Reyna is currently coached by Matt Pilkington, the Englishman who groomed Arsenal prospect Gedion Zelalem in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. I watched Reyna and his team last fall in the opening stages of GA Cup qualifying, where they fell short of the Champions Division, and their progression over the season was marked.
The premise is to go forward, to score and create, that’s our philosophy. That’s what we’re taking from the first team, that’s what we work towards, and it’s suited us throughout this tournament.
Pilkington has built a team that can possess and attack like NYCFC’s star-laden senior squad, with enterprising talents like Reyna and winger Veljko Petkovic. But the team also has a stout defense that, intelligently shielded by holding midfielder Justin Haak, did not concede a single goal in five GA Cup games against top-caliber opposition. Bear in mind, too, that its roster was among the youngest in the tournament.
“We want the ball, so when we have it, we want to make sure we take care of it,” Pilkington told FourFourTwo after Sunday’s win. “The premise is to go forward, to score and create. That’s our philosophy. That’s what we’re taking from the first team.”
Reyna has been billed as a classic playmaker. But he played closer to goal for much of the GA Cup, often as something of a second striker, and prospered. It hints at rare levels of intelligence and versatility – and quite likely a steep trajectory toward the professional level.
“He’s still very young, so we’ve got to keep him grounded a little bit. We’re aware of that,” said Pilkington. “But he’s got a lot of talent. He creates so much for us. His soccer IQ and his awareness for such a young player, is of a different level …
“He can play in different areas, because he’s got great vision and great awareness ... he’s got a range of tools, which makes him at times so unpredictable. As you saw today, if he has space, he can be devastating.”
Born in Scotland during his father’s stint with Rangers FC, Reyna holds a United Kingdom passport. So while he’s on course to become an NYCFC Homegrown Player, he also has a straightforward path to glitzier leagues across the Atlantic, if he rises to that challenge. A national-team career would be a logical consequence, as well. One U.S. Soccer scout told MLSsoccer.com that Reyna is one of the “four to five best players in the entire [U.S.] pool.”
Midfielder James Sands already turned heads with the senior team during preseason, so Reyna might not get the distinction of becoming NYCFC’s first-ever Homegrown Player. Based on the New York region’s large talent pool and ambitious infrastructure being put in place by the club’s cash-flush ownership, he’ll be far from the last.
“There’s some talented players here and now we just have to see how far we can develop them,” Pilkington said. “Obviously moving them up to the first team is the goal.”
Could Reyna be the best of the pool, though? Certainly, it’s very early in the process, but you’ll be hearing an awful lot more about him in the months and years ahead.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.