Gregg Berhalter’s Off-The-Record Oopsie Puts Heat On Gio Reyna
11:01 AM EST on December 12, 2022
Gio Reyna's lack of playing time at the 2022 World Cup was one of the tournament's more puzzling developments. If you had to rank the members of the USMNT by pure talent, Reyna would be at or near the top of the list, and those are usually the types of players you want on the field in a tournament where one bad result can erase four years of hard work and preparation. But Reyna only got on the field for a few minutes against England and the Netherlands, leaving fans and commentators to wonder if there was something going on behind the scenes that was keeping him screwed to the bench. As it turns out, there was indeed.
We now know that Reyna didn't start any of the USMNT's World Cup games because of a lack of effort he showed both in training sessions and a pre-tournament scrimmage against a Qatari club team, and that the coaching staff was so dissatisfied with his performance that they considered sending him home. The reason that we know this is, I must say, extremely funny. USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter gave a talk at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership last Tuesday, and he was apparently under the impression that everything he said at that summit would be considered off the record. This was news to the guy who writes a business newsletter for Charter, who attended the summit and published some of Berhalter's comments in a newsletter that went out on Sunday. (There is now a note on the newsletter saying that Berhalter's comments were indeed off the record but were "erroneously greenlit for publication by someone representing the event organizers.") Here's the bit that caught everyone's eye:
Every day you come into the locker room and you're checking the scales to see where guys are at, to see what issues can arise. You always have to be ready to hit issues head-on, using your values as a filter.
An example I can give you: In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field. One of 26 players, so it stood out. As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that's how extreme it was. And what it came down to was, we're going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we're going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.
But the other thing we said to him was, you're going to have to apologize to the group, but it's going to have to say why you’re apologizing. It's going to have to go deeper than just ‘Guys, I'm sorry.’ And I prepped the leadership group with this. I said, ‘Okay, this guy's going to apologize to you as a group, to the whole team.’ And what was fantastic in this whole thing is that after he apologized, they stood up one by one and said, ‘Listen, it hasn’t been good enough, You haven’t been meeting our expectations of a teammate and we want to see change.’ They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.
Once that got out into the open, there was no turning back. The Athletic's soccer writers got to work right away, and confirmed through their own sources that the player Berhalter was talking about at the summit was Reyna. Those sources were able to add a bit more detail about what exactly went down:
The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said that Reyna showed an alarming lack of effort in training ahead of the U.S.’s opening match of the tournament against Wales on Nov. 21, including in a scrimmage against Qatari club Al Gharafa SC on Nov. 17. Reyna’s lack of intensity in the scrimmage — sources described him walking around throughout his time on the field during what was otherwise an intense session — caused significant frustration within the team. The lack of effort was so pronounced that it was unclear whether Reyna was protecting against an injury or just frustrated that he was not set to be a starter against Wales.
It's fun to read all of this and then go back to see what Berhalter was saying during the World Cup about Reyna's lack of playing time. When Reyna wasn't brought on against Wales in the first group-stage game, Berhalter told reporters that the player had required a "last-minute check" to make sure he was fit enough to make the squad, and mentioned that he had been suffering from "a little bit of tightness" during the scrimmage a few days prior. Whenever coaches talk like that it's impossible not to think that they are just trying to put a smokescreen in front of what's actually going on, but rarely do we ever get to see that kind of assumption proven correct in such a definitive manner. It's unlikely that this whole affair will lead to much fallout given that Berhalter, Reyna, and his national teammates don't have to see each other often enough for any bad blood to persist for too long, but it will make it harder for Berhalter to play the media game in the future. In 2026, when he's telling us all about why Christian Pulisic didn't appear in the USMNT's group-stage loss to Ecuador because he was dealing with a stomach bug, we'll know what's really going on.