The Gold Cup was John O'Brien's cure and Claudio Reyna's poison. O'Brien played his way back into the U.S. national team, and Reyna stayed out of harm's way training with Manchester City.
The result is O'Brien and Reyna will be paired in the midfield -- for the first time since the 2002 World Cup -- when the United States meets Trinidad & Tobago at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday.
Talk about lack of continuity. O'Brien has been struggling with leg injuries for years, and it wasn't until he left Ajax and found alternative treatment in California that he revived his career. O'Brien appeared fresh and fit in the Gold Cup, but it should be noted that O'Brien has been battling Achilles problems and other leg injuries since the late '90s, when Ajax trainers privately questioned whether he ever would be able to return to full strength.
Talk about persistence. O'Brien had performed only once for the U.S. since
the quarterfinal loss to Germany in South Korea and had experienced considerable disappointment in Holland in recent seasons.
Reyna, meanwhile, skipped not only the Gold Cup but also the last two World Cup qualifiers. Reyna was at home in New Jersey while the U.S. was defeating Panama (3-0) and Costa Rica (3-0).
Talk about good judgment.
Steve Cherundolo (knee), Pat Noonan (ankle), Eddie Pope (ankle), Steve Ralston (concussion) all went down during the Gold Cup. DaMarcus Beasley (hamstring), who only narrowly survived some wild collisions in the Gold Cup, and Clint Dempsey, who was simply exhausted, are not with the team for this game, partially the result of Gold Cup aftereffects.
Finally, then, there will be a chance to see what likely is a preview of the U.S. attack for Germany '06, minus Beasley. Brian McBride and Landon Donovan will be up front, with O'Brien and Reyna behind them and Ralston and Eddie Lewis on the wings.
Oh, there is the relatively small matter of disposing of the Soca Warriors, then obtaining a minimum of one more point in the remaining four qualifiers in order to move on to Germany. This should not pose much of a problem.
But it would be nice to sort out the starting lineup and get as many regulars as possible back in a normal groove. Three years ago, nearly everything was clicking for the U.S. in Korea. But this time around, things might not go as smoothly. European teams will not be as surprised by the U.S., and they will be on their home turf -- and in much fresher physical condition than they were in 2002. The U.S. will have to be doubly prepared.
Reyna is off to an encouraging start with Manchester City, and that is a positive omen. Often, especially in soccer, the momentum of a smooth start leads to a smooth finish. By next June, when the World Cup finals start, Reyna could be thankful to have launched the club season successfully so he might be able to coast a little in the final weeks.
Reyna's last two seasons have been nightmarish -- a left anterior cruciate ligament tear in 2003 and several leg injuries last year. This time, Reyna played with his children in the backyard, then eased back into preseason training with Man City -- a much better plan than going out in the summer heat and being exposed as a target for two-footed tackles by Hondurans, Jamaicans and various other regional foes.
"I think if I was with the U.S. team I would have been in and out of fitness again," Reyna said this week. "I think with so many injuries [during the Gold Cup], it was too risky to go back to my club with an injury.
"I don't think people realize how difficult it is to go back and forth. I just felt, for the long term, it would just benefit me, my team here, my club team. I just took some time off to get away and relax and get away from the game a bit."
This likely will be the last World Cup run for Reyna, 32. And, judging by recent seasons, the veteran will be battling the odds to make it through this season and into a difficult World Cup campaign. But Reyna will be needed by the U.S., not only for his composure and skill but also for his leadership. The U.S. has produced few players who have been even close to having Reyna's ability to direct the game from the middle of the field.
So, this match should be a good chance to view a master at work, as well as reviving memories of the O'Brien-Reyna pairing of three years ago.
"Looking at him, it was probably a good decision," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said of Reyna's rest period. "He looks fresh, pretty fit. And I think he wants to be here. In the end, it shows it was a wise decision on his part and Man City."
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.com .