Ryan a frequent commenter on this blog asked me a question last week thart deserves more than a normal Q&A response but an actual blog post. Here is the question:

Now that he’s retired from MLS, can you put Claudio Reyna’s Man City career in perspective for us? It seems like we get a lot of talk about his play for the national team and his play in MLS, but there only ever seems to be mentions of his “playing in 3 top European leagues.”

Claudio Reyna is in my opinion one of the two or three most significant American players in history. Note I didn’t say one of the two or three best because I’m not sure he was, but he was without question someone whose impact moved US Soccer forward tremendously.

Reyna was from the time he was at UVa the great American hope. He was a player so many people were looking forward tom seeing because he was young and technical and had also been brought up in the American system. Our previous two extremely technical midfielders: Hugo Perez and Tab Ramos were both taught the game in Latin America (El Salvador and Uruguay) before emigrating to the United States.

Reyna impressed Bora Milutinovic enough to make the 22 man squad for the 1994 World Cup but an injury kept him from participating. While Reyna captained the US National Team from a 1999 3-0 friendly win over Germany until he hobbled off the pitch with an injury in World Cup 2006 against Ghana, it was at the club level where his impact really moved the perception of American footballers forward.

Reyna signed with Bayer Leverkusen after the 1994 World Cup and eventually was loaned out to Wolfsburg where he became a star. By the time the 1998 World Cup rolled around, Reyna was the one American field player seeing regular time in a top European league. This unfortunately may have hasted Steve Sampson’s decision to dump John Harkes from the side as rumors were abound at the time that Reyna and Harkes did not get along.

Following the disastrous 1998 World Cup, Reyna was made captain of the US National Team by his former College coach Bruce Arena. The results were amazing: with Reyna wearing the armband the US defeated Germany and Argentina in nationally televised friendlies which helped grow the game and make Reyna the first American player ever to wear the armband at a major European club when he signed for Rangers that summer.

Reyna’s play at Rangers was remarkable enough for scouts in the United Kingdom to realize American players had the technical skill and the tactical understanding to play and even excel in the British Isles. This opened the door for the number of American players we see today in England and Scotland. In addition, Reyna’s play at Wolfsburg was directly responsible for Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin taking chances on two MLS players who’d soon become national team mainstays: Frankie Hedjuk and Tony Sanneh. Hedjuk was signed after the 1998 World Cup and Sanneh without much of a national team background was signed after dominating the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998 as DC United defeated Toluca in the final.

When Reyna arrived at Sunderland in 2001 the side had high hopes for “Captain America.” It didn’t come to pass. Reyna’s injury plagued late career started at Sunderland. He missed the US’ 3-2 win over Portugal where Pablo Mastroeni played in his place and Earnie Stewart captained the side to one of the biggest victories in US history. Reyna did have a great tournament though and was named to the Best XI for the World Cup, the only American to ever be given such an honor.

When Reyna transferred to Manchester City in 2003 it was a new lease on life for him. Reyna played well his first year with the club but after that the injuries began to mount and while he’d mix moments of brilliance into the fold he was generally injured too often to be counted on. Same was the case with the New York Red Bulls which has a lot of Reyna bashing appearing on the message boards and other blog across the web. This is tragic as Claudio Reyna was not just a former US captain: he was a pioneer of the sport in this country who helped open the door for the Americans who now are getting offers in the transfer market from large clubs and whose quality and skill are not going unrecognized by the footballing world.