March 24, 2007
'Play first, win later'

By Mike Woitalla
(From the October 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine)

Claudio Reyna, the veteran of four World Cup teams played top-flight soccer in Europe longer than any American in history.

Born and raised in New Jersey, he was coached first by his father, Miguel, who played pro ball in Argentina.

''My father's coaching philosophy was, 'Learn to play first, learn to win later,''' says Reyna in his book, More Than Goals: The journey from backyard games to World Cup competition. ''He would rather us play well and lose than go out and play ugly and win.''

When he and his teammates were about 10, Claudio says his father encouraged them to string passes together and heaped praise upon them when they were able to keep possession. He didn't mind if they lost to teams that depended on booting the ball to a big boy up front.

''Playing possession soccer would pay off in the long run, even if it doesn't get results at the youth level,'' Reyna says. ''He knew that when players advanced to higher levels, the direct, long-ball approach would become ineffective, because it's a predictable strategy and it becomes especially futile when the team no longer has a size advantage.''

In the pros and for the USA, Reyna has played attacking and defensive midfielder, on both flanks, on the frontline, and as an outside back. That versatility started early.

''My dad had us switch positions all the time,'' Reyna says. ''A lot of star players are only used in the center during their youth career. When they join a team that already has players to fill that role, they can't adjust to another position, and their career comes to an early end.''