Gregg Berhalter Knows He Needs Gio Reyna, Even If They Still Haven’t Spoken
9:00 AM EDT on August 31, 2023
Next week, the second reign of Gregg Berhalter begins: The USMNT will play its first pair of friendlies since Berhalter reascended to the top of the program. While he was gone for the first three quarters of 2023, the team changed a fair bit.
Folarin Balogun linked up with the squad, providing an immediate and inarguably strong counterpoint to the team's thesis that a striker's job is less to score goals and more to vibe out in the attacking third. The A-team whipped ass at the Nations League and the C-team had a fun silly time at the Gold Cup. Almost every significant player in the first XI—Balogun, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, Matt Turner, Ricardo Pepi, Malik Tillman—switched club teams, largely with encouraging early returns.
On the field, there is a lot to be excited about here. Balogun has two caps and extremely limited experience; fresh off a big move to Monaco, he'll look to cement his spot as the unquestioned starter at striker. Cowell has looked fantastic for U.S. youth teams and malformed full national teams in his eight caps, though we have yet to see him run with the big dogs for a sustained period. He also finally committed his international future to the U.S. after obtaining Mexico citizenship amid heavy interest from El Tri. Inter Miami's Benjamin Cremaschi is a year younger than Cowell and has yet to resolve his international future; he's been a key part of some of the most psychedelic MLS highlights ever, and while one worries that Lionel Messi's influence would sway him to Argentina (who have called him up for youth camps), it's extremely encouraging to see him brought into the full team.
That's a ton of flux, but one thing that hasn't changed is the sour state of affairs between Berhalter and Gio Reyna. Among the many reasons for U.S. fans to feel puzzled by Berhalter's decidedly unceremonious rehiring was the clear and unresolved rancor between the once and future coach and the Reyna family. Gio is one of the three or four most talented players in the program, a hooper's hooper and the author of my favorite highlight since the Algeria goal. If he's healthy (and that's a 747-sized "if"), he has to be a part of the team. That's an unavoidable truth made significantly more uncomfortable by the saga that saw Berhalter bash Reyna publicly for his bad attitude at the Qatar World Cup, the Reynas respond by leaking details of a 1992 domestic violence incident between Berhalter and his wife Rosalind to U.S. Soccer to try to get him fired, and U.S. Soccer, under new leadership, bring back Berhalter after investigating the Reynas' claims.
As awful as the Reynas were to Berhalter, and as bad as Claudio in particular comes off in the full investigatory findings, both parties bear fault here. It was pretty shitty for Berhalter to bag on Gio like he did, whether or not he thought he was off the record. He says he did so to illustrate that the team's culture of accountability was strong enough to handle a player loafing off while also performing extremely well on the field (hmm), but in the end it backfired spectacularly.
Thankfully for Berhalter, Reyna is presently, as ever, injured, so the timeline on his next call-up remains uncertain. Won't he eventually have to deal with this situation? That's the crux of a strong Vanity Fair story Tuesday from Tom Kludt, a story that highlights how serious the dispute between star and coach still is. Berhalter told Kludt he hasn't spoken to Reyna since the World Cup, and that while he understands Reyna will probably have to be a part of the team at some point soon, they're not close to resolving their differences.
Berhalter said he has consulted experts in mediation work to ensure the dispute with Reyna is handled “in the right way.” It’s all still raw, and Berhalter is proceeding cautiously. “It’s not something where you just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey bud, here’s how it’s going to be,’” he said. “There is work to be done.”
(One serious impediment here is the relationship between Berhalter and Claudio Reyna, with whom he used to be extremely close. They played youth and high school soccer together before ascending to the full national team and enjoying essentially parallel careers there. His wife roomed and played college soccer with Danielle Reyna at North Carolina. Kludt asked Berhalter about whether he thought he and the Reyna parents could ever have a relationship again and the coach "looked anguished as he considered the question for several seconds" before saying he wasn't comfortable answering.)
Kludt also spoke to new U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker, who defended the process of his coaching search. An interesting wrinkle there is that Pulisic reportedly lobbied hard for Berhalter's reinstatement. Given Pulisic's stature within the program, one wonders how much of a say-so he had in the decision making process, and whether it's actually good for the program for the best player to have that kind of shot-calling power.
This is, for mostly better and occasionally worse, Pulisic's team, and as much as it's on Berhalter and Reyna to step up and work through their feud, Pulisic has some sway here. He called the affair "childish" and like something out of "youth soccer" in March. He's right, up to a point—how many youth-league Soccer Dad spats wind up with ESPN reporting on leaked details of a 30-year-old domestic violence incident?—but "dumb" and "easy to resolve" are two very different things, and the former attribute doesn't at all imply the latter. When you pick your own coach, you pick his coaching problems, too, and a share of the burden of fixing them.