One of the bigger questions surrounding the United States men’s national team during their run at the 2023 FIFA World Cup was how little coach Gregg Berhalter utilized talented young forward Gio Reyna. Despite seemingly the entire nation calling for Reyna to see more playing time, Reyna saw just seven minutes of game action during group play. While he was brought on against the Netherlands in the second half with the United States trailing, he could not help the USMNT overcome their 2-0 deficit, as the United States was knocked out by a final score of 3-1.
According to new reporting from ESPN, the handling of Reyna by his coach has gone beyond a coaching decision, and is now part of a deeper investigation into U.S. Soccer.
It also seems to be fracturing a relationship between two formerly close families.
In the reporting from ESPN, former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna — Gio Reyna’s father and a former teammate of Berhalter’s on the USMNT — and his wife Danielle allegedly contacted U.S. Soccer executives regarding sensitive details about Berhalter’s past. Their frustration stems from comments made by Berhalter after the World Cup at a leadership conference.
In addition, Claudio’s frustration with how his son was being utilized by the USMNT was expressed to U.S. Soccer officials during the World Cup. Both Claudio Reyna and Danielle Reyna admitted to the contact with officials in statements on Wednesday.
We can begin on news that broke on Tuesday of this week. The report from ESPN comes in the wake of a statement from Berhalter that was released on Tuesday, as well as a follow-up statement from U.S. Soccer. In his statement, Berhalter and his wife Rosalind outline a domestic violence incident from their time in college, during Berhalter’s freshman year at the University of North Carolina. As detailed in the statement, where Berhalter engaged in an act of physical violence one night, where he kicked Rosalind: “In the fall of 1991, I met my soulmate. I had just turned 18 and was a freshman in college when I met Rosalind. One night, while out drinking at a local bar, Rosalind and I had a heated argument that continued outside. It became physical and I kicked her in the legs.”
The statement also outlined how the two later reconciled, and recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. “The lessons learned from that night over three decades ago became the foundation for a loving, devoted, and supportive relationship, which we honored and celebrated with our 25th wedding anniversary this past weekend.”
Prior to outlining the incident from college, Berhalter’s statement also indicates that “[d]uring the World Cup, an individual contacted U.S. Soccer, saying they had information about me that would “take me down” — an apparent effort to leverage something very personal from long ago to bring about the end of my relationship with U.S. Soccer.”
U.S Soccer released their statement 15 minutes later, which read in part:
“Upon learning of the allegation against U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter on Dec. 11, 2022, U.S. Soccer immediately hired Alston and Bird LLP to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.
“Through this process, U.S. Soccer has 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.”
Why is the date of note? On Dec. 11, Berhalter spoke at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York. During his comments — which were apparently not meant for the public — Berhalter shared that he nearly sent a player home from Qatar because he was not meeting expectations on, and off, the field.
Berhalter did not identify the player by name, but Gio Reyna shared a message on social media the next day, outlining that he was the player in question. Reyna stated that after he was informed of what would be his limited role at the World Cup, he “let his emotions get the best of [him]:”
I am also a very emotional person, and I fully acknowledge that I let my emotions get the best of me and affect my training and behavior for a few days after learning about my limited role. I apologized to my teammates and coach for this, and I was told I was forgiven. Thereafter, I shook off my disappointment and gave everything I had on and off the field.
Gio Reyna’s social media message also indicated that believed that the matter was in the past, and he had hoped to put the experience behind him: “I hoped not to comment on matters at the World Cup. It is my belief that things that happen in a team setting ought to remain private. That being said, statements have been made that reflect on my professionalism and character, so I feel the need to make a brief statement.”
Reyna’s mother, Danielle Reyna, confirmed in a statement that she reached out to U.S. Soccer after Berhalter’s comments became public. She was Rosalind’s roommate in college. According to a statement she provided to Goal.com, she did reach out to U.S. Soccer after Berhalter’s comments were made public, because she was “absolutely outraged and devastated that Gio had been put in such a terrible position:”
“To set the record straight, I did call (U.S. Soccer sporting director) Earnie Stewart on December 11, just after the news broke that Gregg had made negative statements about my son Gio at a leadership conference,” Danielle Reyna said in a statement on Wednesday. “I have known Earnie for years and consider him to be a close friend. I wanted to let him know that I was absolutely outraged and devastated that Gio had been put in such a terrible position, and that I felt very personally betrayed by the actions of someone my family had considered a friend for decades.”
“As part of that conversation, I told Earnie that I thought it was especially unfair that Gio, who had apologized for acting immaturely about his playing time, 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. Without going into detail, the statements from yesterday significantly minimize the abuse on the night in question. Rosalind Berhalter was my roommate, teammate and best friend, and I supported her through the trauma that followed. It took a long time for me to forgive and accept Gregg afterward, but I worked hard to give him grace, and ultimately made both of them and their kids a huge part of my family’s life. I would have wanted and expected him to give the same grace to Gio. This is why the current situation is so very hurtful and hard.”
Danielle Reyna denied any allegations of “blackmail:”
“At the time I called Earnie, many people were trashing Gio on social media due to Gregg’s comments, and I didn’t know when or if this would stop. I just wanted Earnie to help make sure that there would be no further unwarranted attacks on my son. I thought our conversation would remain in confidence, and it didn’t occur to me at the time that anything I said could lead to an investigation. I’m not criticizing Earnie here. I very much commend the recent efforts by U.S. Soccer to address abuse of women players, and I understand now he had an obligation to investigate what I shared. But I want to be very clear that I did not ask for Gregg to be fired, I did not make any threats, and I don’t know anything about any blackmail attempts, nor have I ever had any discussions about anyone else on Gregg’s staff—I don’t know any of the other coaches. I did not communicate with anyone in U.S. Soccer about this matter before December 11, and no one else in my family has made any statements to U.S. Soccer regarding Gregg’s past at all.”
Claudio Reyna released a statement on Wednesday afternoon, confirming that he shared his “frustrations” with his son’s World Cup experience with some friends, including Earnie Stewart:
Claudio outlines that he asked Stewart to “prevent any additional comments,” and that he never threatened anyone.
Claudio is currently the sporting director for Austin FC, where Berhalter’s son Sebastian play once played before being traded to Vancouver. Claudio and Gregg Berhalter were not only teammates on the USMNT, but they played together in high school.
This is all coming to light as Berhalter’s contract as the coach of the USMNT expired at the end of 2022. In their statement, U.S. Soccer indicated that a decision on who would coach the USMNT January camp would be announced in the coming days. Since releasing that statement, U.S. Soccer announced that On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced that current USMNT assistant coach Anthony Hudson would lead the team during a January camp in California, “With the ongoing investigation and U.S. Soccer’s full review of the USMNT program following the conclusion of the 2022 FIFA World Cup still underway.”
The timeline is rather confusing, and will likely be a focus of the investigation being conducted by Alston & Bird LLP. Berhalter’s statement alleges that U.S. Soccer was contacted with this information during the World Cup, while Danielle Reyna’s statement points out that her comments — which did address the incident from Berhalter’s past — came following the end of the World Cup.
Claudio Reyna’s statement highlights that he aired his frustrations during the World Cup.
U.S. Soccer indicated that they would make the results of their investigation and review public when it is completed.