This should be an exciting, anticipatory moment for the U.S. men’s national team. A young core of players performed admirably at the World Cup in Qatar and could take a step forward by 2026, when the U.S. will co-host the tournament with Canada and Mexico.
But instead of looking ahead in anticipation, we’re caught up in a Shakespearean drama, and the future is uncertain.
For those who need a quick recap: At the World Cup in Qatar, talented attacker Gio Reyna showed an alarming lack of effort in training, which frustrated his teammates and coaches and contributed to his lower-than-expected playing time at the tournament. Reyna eventually apologized to the group and by all accounts, the team moved on.
A few days after the U.S.’s elimination, head coach Gregg Berhalter detailed the saga at a leadership conference in New York City. Berhalter’s comments were supposed to be off the record and he never mentioned Reyna by name, but they were nonetheless published in a newsletter after the event. And for anyone paying attention, it was clear who he was referring to.
Gio’s parents, Claudio and Danielle Reyna, upset that their son’s unprofessionalism was being aired publicly, called U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart to voice their anger. Danielle told him about a 1991 domestic violence incident in which Gregg Berhalter kicked his now-wife, Rosalind, when they were dating while at the University of North Carolina.
“I told Earnie that I thought it was especially unfair that Gio…was still being dragged through the mud when Gregg had asked for and received forgiveness for doing something so much worse at the same age,” she said in a statement.
Stewart then took the allegation to his superiors at U.S. Soccer, who hired an outside law firm to further investigate. And before long, the whole thing became public knowledge.
Heightening all of this was how intertwined all these parties are. Gregg Berhalter and Claudio Reyna became friends playing under Claudio’s father on a youth team in northern New Jersey. They went to high school together and were teammates with the U.S. at two World Cups. Rosalind Berhalter and Danielle Reyna were good friends, roommates and soccer teammates at UNC. They kept their families close over the ensuing 30 years. Stewart, too, has a long history with both families, playing with Claudio Reyna at three World Cups and with Gregg Berhalter at one.
Apart from Rosalind Berhalter and Stewart, just about everyone involved acted shamefully.
The lack of effort was entirely inappropriate from the 20-year-old Gio Reyna, whose protracted fit about not starting the opener against Wales was disrespectful to his teammates, coaches and the players who narrowly missed out on the final roster.
Speaking about the situation in a room full of strangers was foolish by Gregg Berhalter. No matter the ground rules of the event, a U.S. national team head coach has to know that revealing inside-the-locker-room details in any unfamiliar setting may cause a leak.
It should go without saying that Gregg Berhalter abusing Rosalind was reprehensible. She will have to always carry the trauma of the moment; he will have to live with the shame of it for the rest of his life. The knowledge of it should play a role in whether U.S. Soccer retains Berhalter, who was 18 when he abused Rosalind, as head coach. The ongoing investigation should also look into what the federation knew of the incident when Berhalter was first hired in December 2018. At that time, Berhalter’s brother Jay was a high-ranking executive at USSF, though Stewart was most directly responsible for the hire.
The elder Reynas should feel shame, as well. Claudio Reyna admitted in a statement released earlier this month that he was texting Stewart and USMNT GM Brian McBride, another former U.S. teammate of his and Berhalter, about his frustration around Gio’s lack of playing time while in Qatar. That would be inappropriate behavior for a parent of an under-12 player. For a former USMNT captain and current MLS sporting director whose son was then at the World Cup, it was extremely unbecoming.
Those kinds of actions seem to be part of a pattern for Reyna, who, as first reported by Fox Sports last Thursday and later confirmed by sources to The Athletic, previously tried to influence then-U.S. under-17 national team head coach Raphael Wicky regarding his treatment of Gio at the 2019 U-17 World Cup.
Of course, none of that is nearly as bad as Danielle Reyna detailing the incident in which Berhalter kicked Rosalind to Stewart. The issue there isn’t with the revelation of the abuse, but how Danielle Reyna revealed it: without Rosalind’s consent.
In her statement, Danielle didn’t say she told Stewart of the abuse out of any concern for Rosalind, her friend of more than 30 years. She didn’t say she told Stewart because she felt Gregg was morally incapable of coaching the USMNT. By her own admission, she naively didn’t even realize that what she said could prompt an investigation.
It didn’t seem to matter to her that it wasn’t her story to share. It didn’t matter that she was once close friends with Rosalind. It didn’t even matter that the Berhalters dealt with the incident, reconciled and appear to have had a long, happy and fruitful marriage. The only thing that seemed to matter to Danielle was that Gregg made some comments about her son’s poor behavior at the World Cup. That was enough for her to drag another family through the mud. What she did was spiteful, vindictive and entirely out of proportion.
Parts of Danielle’s statement read like she feels those in her family are the victims. That’s laughable. The only victims here are Rosalind Berhalter and her children, who have had to live through this uncomfortable experience under some incredibly bright lights.
For the others, the next period could be determinative, as the independent investigation commissioned by U.S. Soccer is still open.
Berhalter wants to stay on as U.S. head coach, and Stewart told reporters he’s still being considered, but there were legitimate questions even before this drama became public about whether he should be retained. The 2022 World Cup cycle was a solid but not overwhelming success on the field with some missteps popping up along the way.
Players who have been asked about the scandal over the last couple of weeks have been generally supportive of Berhalter, but it’s possible, as U.S. legend DaMarcus Beasley mentioned on HBO Max’s post-game show following the U.S. women’s 4-0 win at New Zealand on Tuesday, that his comments at the leadership symposium hurt his standing in the locker room. U.S. Soccer may determine that bringing back Berhalter would be too problematic, especially if the federation aims to be wholly focused on building positive momentum ahead of 2026.
However, realistic alternatives to take over for Berhalter may be scarce. For one, coaching the USMNT might be a pretty dull prospect until 2026. As one of the host nations, there’s no qualifying on tap for the U.S. and no guarantee that the Americans will get into the 2024 Copa America. The only meaningful games for the U.S. men between now and the start of the next World Cup could be against regional competition in the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup. For big-name, world-class managers, those tournaments probably won’t be all that attractive. And for all we know, U.S. Soccer, which has paid and continues to pay a mountain of legal fees thanks to various lawsuits and investigations, may not even be able to afford the kinds of salaries commanded by the top managers on the market.
Claudio Reyna’s future might also be affected. According to a statement issued by the federation on Jan. 3, during the course of the investigation, USSF “learned about potential inappropriate behavior towards multiple members of our staff by individuals outside of our organization. We take such behavior seriously and have expanded our investigation to include those allegations.” Given his statement about texting Stewart and McBride and the reporting about his messages about Wicky at the U-17 World Cup, that expanded scope could implicate Reyna, and may lead to repercussions by Austin FC, his employer.
Reyna said in his statement that “at no time did I ever threaten anyone, nor would I ever do so.” But if the investigation confirms instances of inappropriate behavior by Reyna, Austin should seriously consider whether they want to continue employing him as sporting director.
Befitting the rest of this story, there’s also some interpersonal awkwardness at play in Austin, which is coached by former U.S. international Josh Wolff. The two-time World Cup veteran came to the club after spending six years as Berhalter’s top lieutenant, first with Columbus, then with the USMNT. Additionally, Austin is owned by Anthony Precourt, who hired Berhalter in Columbus in November 2013. That’s a pair of individuals with deep connections to Berhalter on either side of Reyna on the Austin organizational chart.
Austin, for what it’s worth, has already put some distance between themselves and Reyna — at least temporarily. Since Jan. 5, the day after news broke that the Reynas were involved in this scandal, the club has not quoted Claudio in either of its two first-team roster-related press releases, instead including color from Wolff or director of player personnel Sean Rubio. Under normal circumstances, Reyna is quoted in announcements regarding the roster. A club spokesperson declined to comment on the reasoning behind the change when reached on Tuesday.
There are questions to be answered for Gio Reyna, too. He’s still young and can certainly grow from his poor behavior in Qatar, but not giving proper effort at the World Cup is a pretty significant red flag regardless of age. Reyna is talented, but feeling like he deserved to start for a U.S. team that he didn’t play a significant role for during qualifying because of injuries suggests a degree of entitlement incommensurate with what he’s actually done on the field. It also ignores the ability of fellow wingers Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, who started and performed well in front of Reyna in Qatar.
His first time back in the U.S. locker room could be a bit uncomfortable, too. It may not end up being an issue, but it’s not hard to imagine some of his teammates looking at him sideways after his mom and dad escalated this drama.
If Reyna responds to this situation with humility, by putting his head down and using his substantial gifts to earn his place in the team, he’ll be fine for both club and country. If he doesn’t, it could negatively affect his career.
More than anything, this is an absurd, sad way for the U.S. men to close out one relatively successful World Cup cycle and enter into what should be an exciting moment for the entire American soccer community. We don’t know what will come of this madness, but we do know that what should’ve been a positive moment has already been indelibly tainted.
(Photo: Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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