Gregg Berhalter did nothing wrong.
Not recently, though.
And the parents of national team winger Gio Reyna? Well, they are selfish, they should know better.
These are essentially the findings of a 10-week investigation by an Atlanta law firm hired by US Soccer. The company explored the origins of a sad, sordid and embarrassing soap opera involving former (and possibly future) US team coach Berhalter and the parents of one of his star players.
Now, the federation that released that report on Monday says it’s time to move on. However, the damage caused by unnecessary drama can take months to repair.
To recap, Berhalter, the national team’s coach since 2018, told Gio Reyna on the eve of last fall’s World Cup that he would have a limited role in the tournament. The player took the news badly and threw a tantrum, forcing teammates and coaches to step in and confront his attitude; Reyna eventually apologized but the water was not under the bridge.
Days after the World Cup, Berhalter spoke at a leadership conference in New York, where he shared an anecdote about an unnamed player whose behavior was so disruptive that Qatar’s coaching staff debated sending him home. The media later identified that player as Reyna, who played just 52 minutes in the tournament.
Then things really went off the rails.
In response, Gio’s parents, Claudio and Danielle Reyna, former national team players, sent a message to Earnie Stewart, then US Soccer’s technical director, to complain about Berhalter. According to Alston & Bird’s report, Stewart had an hour-long phone conversation later in which Danielle Reyna told Stewart about a 31-year-old physical altercation between Berhalter and Rosalind Santana, her college roommate and the woman who would later become Berhalter’s wife.
The incident was never reported to the police and the Reynas had no plans to go public, but, according to the report, “were considering starting to spread the story privately to others.”
Sounds like blackmail, huh? But it also follows a pattern. According to the Alston & Bird investigation, a person whose name has been removed from the report recalled Danielle Reyna, who spoke about Berhalter at a World Cup event, saying: “When this tournament is over, I can make a phone call and give the interview, and his shoe nice and bounce passes will disappear.’
Former US Men’s National Team Coach Gregg Berhalter.
(Andre Penner/Associated Press)
The message, unidentified witnesses told investigators, was that Berhalter’s “nice guy” image could end quickly and that Danielle Reyna could “rip him down.”
It is important to pause here and consider the player at the center of this drama. Gio Reyna, 20, is a dynamic and talented athlete who could become one of the best US players of all time. But he is also prone to injury, having played the full 90 minutes in 16 matches with the national team. And 11 of his 15 Bundesliga appearances this season have come as substitutes for Borussia Dortmund.
He is used to coming off the bench. He is effective off the bench. So Berhalter’s intention to use him off the bench in Qatar made sense. But even if it wasn’t, he is the coach and the call is his – claudio Reyna, a four-time World Cup player and former team captain, certainly knows that.
However, the elder Reyna repeatedly used his status in US soccer to seek favorable treatment for his son. From 2016 through the 2022 World Cup, the report says, Reyna protested to U.S. Soccer officials about her son’s playing time, the penalties and suspensions her son received and selection decisions for U.S. Soccer camps in an attempt to change those results. The complaints were particularly troubling when he replaced Stewart as captain at the 2002 World Cup and wore the armband for the USA in seven world matches.
Berhalter, by the way, played next to Reyna in two of those games.
If there is one good thing to come out of this drama, US Soccer has promised to rewrite its policies, including language defining parental misconduct and communications with the national team. In the short term, however, that can’t erase the massive damage the Reynas’ personal vendetta has caused, both to themselves and to the national program they once played for.
Claudio Reyna, 49, once considered one of MLS’ best sporting directors, left his role with Austin FC in January and is listed on the club’s website as a technical advisor. For the young and talented USMNT, however, the momentum gained over the past four years has stalled, if not reversed. Although Berhalter publicly acknowledged and apologized for the altercation with his wife in 1991, and a US Soccer-ordered investigation into the incident cleared the coach, his contract expired after Reynas’ first phone call with Stewart and the controversy. the resulting dialogue necessarily delayed the federation’s decision on a new manager.
Stewart’s decision last month to leave US Soccer and return to his hometown has further delayed that decision, as his replacement as technical director will need to be hired before a new manager is chosen. This leaves the national team without a rudder to enter the World Cup cycle that will end with the tournament to be played in the USA.
More importantly, the smear has unfairly tarnished the reputation of Berhalter, a good, decent man who, by the way, has the best winning percentage of any USMNT coach who has worked more than two games. Almost every player in the World Cup squad has spoken highly of Berhalter, 49, who is expected to be a candidate to return as coach whenever the selection process for the job begins.
That may not happen until the summer, when the U.S. will play under coach Anthony Hudson in the spring League of Nations and the summer Gold Cup.
Hudson is among those ready to move on. This week he will announce his squad for this month’s Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador and why he didn’t say Gio Reyna would be in that squad, he didn’t even say he wouldn’t be.
“He’s a very talented player, an important young player,” Hudson said after a recent meeting with Reyna in Germany. “This happened. We as a staff decided to take action and the response from the player was: a positive response. Beyond that, I don’t see Gio’s involvement in anything.
“I will not accept what happened. … The other things are separate from the child, from the player”.
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