It’s not Claudio Reyna’s first rodeo when it comes to building an expansion team from the ground up. Reyna, of course, was instrumental in launching New York City FC and preparing the franchise for their 2015 MLS debut.
But even as he was announced as Austin FC’s new sporting director last month, and expressed his excitement about the new project before him, he noted just how much MLS has changed in recent years.
“It’s just this challenge again; I’m really energized by it,” Reyna said in a conference call. “When you look at the possibilities, and how the league's changed from when [NYCFC] came in. It’s hard to compare from 2015 to 2021, when [Austin FC] comes in. The league has completely changed in terms of the different mechanisms of bringing players in, the competition in general, the profile of players that are coming in.”
While he acknowledged the challenge, he also showed enthusiasm for the chance to build a second expansion team, noting, “It’s exciting to put your fingerprints on something.”
For Austin FC CEO Anthony Precourt, it was Reyna’s experience in building a new team in MLS, and his understanding of the league’s intricacies, that made him such an attractive sporting director candidate and led Precourt to make yet another splash following the hiring of highly-coveted MLS and US national team assistant Josh Wolff and the opening of a $45 million training facility in North Austin.
“Hiring someone with Claudio’s gravitas and experience as a player and executive with NYCFC, it's a big day for our club, and it's a big hire for us,” Precourt observed. “Claudio obviously had a tremendous career as a player. He understands the Concacaf region with his national team duty, and then obviously he transitioned into a leadership role, and you know, there's no better place to learn than City Football Group.
“In terms of MLS IQ,” Precourt added, “he just understands our league and the acquisition mechanisms really, really well. He also has a global perspective, playing in Germany and England and Scotland, and he just has a lot of relationships. His network of contacts across Europe in the United States are second-to-none. He's got a real keen eye for talent.”
Precourt also noted that Reyna’s bilingualism is an additional asset in being able to connect with Spanish-speaking players. Reyna noted that one of the most significant league changes has been the trend toward young, talented players from Central and South America, and Precourt alluded to his ongoing interest in scouting Mexico as Austin FC looks to building its inaugural season roster.
While Reyna noted he’ll be working in close collaboration with Wolff, his former teammate on the USMNT, to build the roster, he’ll bring the philosophy with him that allowed him to build a diverse and international yet cohesive roster in New York.
Asserting that he’s open to signing players from “all leagues and any country,” Reyna noted his excitement in getting to work on assembling the squad.
“It's a process that needs a lot of collaboration,” he noted. “We need scouts. We need to recruit players, which I think is going to be easy with a city like Austin and a club like Austin FC. And then also, when they get to the club, we have to make them better players. It’s not just the scouting and the recruitment; it's also the work that we’ll do to make those players successful.”
There’s a bit of a bittersweet element for Reyna leaving. He characterized leaving NYCFC for this opportunity as a difficult decision, adding, “I feel really good about what we've done in New York, leaving behind a great academy, and a very competitive first team that is only going to be better next season.”
But he also underscored the excitement of coming to Austin to begin this new project and this new phase of his career.
“It’s a very energizing, exciting opportunity at a new club in this incredible city,” he proclaimed. “That was just something that that fit for me. And, you know, I really can't wait.”