Looking Back and Looking Forward

With the 2018 World Cup in full effect, I can’t help but reflect on my own World Cup experiences and the evolution of soccer in America.

In the 1994 tournament, I was the youngest player on the men’s national team roster. The energy was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. Singing the national anthem and hearing the fans in the stadium bellowing their support from the stands, I got goosebumps. You get that sensation that you’re on the world stage and there is no other soccer game on the planet that is more important than the one that is about to start.

I went on to captain the team for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Everything was turned up for these competitions – the anxiety, the nerves, the preparation. It was on a whole different level from a non-World Cup national team game. Playing for your club team is obviously important, but there was nothing like the emotions that came along with being able to represent my country in front of the world.
Claudio Reyna

Having the opportunity to lead the team out in those two competitions is something I’ll never forget. I will always remember the energy and interactions in the tunnel before we walked out onto the pitch. Off the pitch, there were an equal number of amazing memories not to be forgotten – the good times we had at training, the comradery, the memories with the World Cup squad. I remember calling my mom or my wife right away to celebrate a win, sitting across from David Letterman and Jay Leno, and speaking with morning talk show hosts.

The 2002 World Cup was especially memorable. I remember this huge swell of excitement, support, and interest in our team. We were on the other side of the world, but we felt this responsibility at the time to do well and compete with the best nations in the world. It was important to us that we regained respect and credibility after an unfortunate performance in the 1998 World Cup. I felt that we did that, losing out to Germany (the eventual runners-up) in the quarter-final match.

Claudio Reyna

Now, over a decade and a half later, there continues to be a leveling of the playing field, and you’re seeing it in the 2018 World Cup – the best teams are having to work really hard to get a result against the so-called smaller soccer nations. It’s a good sign for the future of the sport that more soccer nations around the world are becoming more competitive.

We are now in a similar situation to the one we were in between our early exit in the 1998 World Cup and the 2002 tournament. While there has been criticism for the failure of the USMNT to qualify for this year’s World Cup, we’ve been presented with an amazing opportunity to reset and come together. Everyone is excited about the successful United Bid for 2026, but we need to make sure that we’re better in 2019, better in 2020, better in 2021, and qualify for 2022. It’s equally critical that we participate in the 2022 World Cup so that we have a better chance in 2026.

Claudio Reyna

If the most important thought in everyone’s heads is about what is right for the players – at all levels, ages, and genders – then I truly believe that we will have better national teams and better leagues. If you look around the world – and the World Cup is showing this – the sport is advancing rapidly in other countries. We can’t sit still; we need to be honest and have conversations about what we need to do to impact our players.

This sport has a miraculous ability to effect positive change. There’s nothing like soccer to connect people of all different backgrounds, religions, races, ages, and genders. We often forget that soccer can serve as this incredible vehicle for human connection. The sport, like the World Cup and other soccer events and tournaments, is a tool that brings people together.

That’s why bringing soccer to urban and inner-city areas makes so much sense. Kids need a place to play – a safe place to play. If we could get future World Cup stars out of it, we’d all be happy, but step one is coming to a city and putting down roots to make sure that soccer is there for the long term, not just a quick clinic or a pit stop in the city to promote a soccer organization.

It’s exciting to see what the U.S. Soccer Foundation has done for children living in underserved communities. After meeting with the Foundation’s President & CEO, Ed Foster-Simeon, many years back and hearing his vision to promote the game via different methods – whether it’s developing Safe Places to Play mini-pitches or engaging children in its free after-school program, Soccer for Success – it’s amazing to see the momentum the Foundation has gained in bringing the sport to communities across the country.

For the most part, suburban area kids have access to soccer, which is a start. But at the same time, we need to continue to make this push to have soccer become something that any kid, no matter where he or she lives, can play and find access to. I look forward to the days of walking by and seeing kids of all ages, genders, and backgrounds playing unorganized soccer.

Claudio Reyna NYCFC

We’ve seen the benefits first-hand at the local level at New York City FC in our partnership with the Foundation to bring soccer to communities across the five boroughs of New York in the form of 50 mini-pitches and quality soccer programming. But not only are we providing children with safe places to play and access to trained coach-mentors, we’re creating new soccer fans and bringing people together to play this great sport. This is only the beginning and that mentality is going to pay off long term.

Claudio Reyna currently serves as the sporting director for New York City FC. In addition to running the Claudio Reyna Foundation, Claudio is also a member of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s New York City Leadership Council, which is one of several Leadership Councils across the country dedicated to making soccer #EveryonesGame. Follow this link to learn more about the program that drives Claudio and other members to support the work of the Foundation.


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  • adidas


    adidas, the Foundation’s Safe Places to Play – Mini-Pitch Partner, supports providing children in underserved communities with safe play spaces nationwide. adidas strives to be the globally leading and most popular sporting goods brand. Dedicated to innovation,  adidas embraces creativity and seeks to be socially responsible in all facets of its brand. For more information, please visit adidas.com.

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    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit www.sportsbyapt.com.

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    CHA Sports, the Foundation’s Supplier for Soccer Facility Design and Planning Services, provides community partners with expertise in soccer facility design. CHA Sport’s full service approach allows the company to build world-class projects without breaking budgets. For more information, please visit chacompanies.com

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    The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    DICK’S Sporting Goods and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation believe that participation in sports makes people better. Since 2014, DICK’S and The DICK’S Foundation have pledged more than $100 million to support youth sports teams and leagues in need.  Through our Sports Matter initiative we strive to increase awareness for underfunded youth athletics nationwide and provide much-needed support through equipment, uniform and monetary donations. For more information on Sports Matter, visit SportsMatter.org.

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    Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit www.jnj.com.

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    As a proud corporate partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco is dedicated to helping the major charitable arm of American soccer create new opportunities through high-quality sports lighting. Their Total Light Control—TLC for LED™ technology is engineered as a system with lighting, structural, and electrical components designed to work together for streamlined installation and long-term reliability. TLC for LED delivers superior field lighting while eliminating glare and spill from impacting surrounding neighborhoods. And Musco’s long-term warranty covering parts and labor means U.S. Soccer Foundation partners don’t have to handle any maintenance on their system, or pay for it, for 25 years. Visit https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ to learn more about the grant program and application process.

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    Target announced a national partnership with Safe Places to Play in 2017, along with a $6 million commitment to build 100 new soccer play spaces with the U.S. Soccer Foundation by 2020. This is the latest initiative in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s multi-dimensional approach to the sport of soccer, bringing the game to more kids and families across the country, and unlocking access and increasing involvement at all levels.

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    World Soccer Shop

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