The World Cup may have ended for the U.S. Men’s National Team, but the off-the-pitch drama has only continued to escalate. Tensions between the American Manager Gregg Berhalter and Gio Reyna exploded into the public over the last 24 hours, following a leaked statement by Gregg Berhalter and a public response from Gio Reyna on his Instagram.
While the USMNT was pushing through the Group Stage and the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Gio Reyna’s absence on the pitch became increasingly noticeable. Despite the young American’s success with Borussia Dortmund, and him apparently having recovered from his previous injuries, Reyna played less than 60 minutes across the USMNT’s four matches. This angered many American fans who thought that Reyna would increase the squad’s success in Qatar, and confused many others who couldn’t understand why a player who many consider one of the country’s best would be benched.
At first, Berhalter waved off the issue as a medical one, saying that Reyna was left on the bench in the USMNT’s first match against Wales to prevent him from reaggravating his muscle injury. But at the same time, Gio Reyna was publicly adamant that he was ready to go. As the tournament continued, his absences continued. He played all of 10 minutes against England, sat again against Iran, and made his final appearance coming off the bench at the half against the Netherlands. Despite public assurances that the relationship between player and coach was strong, rumors and insinuations began to emerge that a rift was growing between the two. By the time the USA was eliminated by the Dutch, Reyna’s absence was one of the primary issued levelled at Gregg Berhalter. With his contract ending, Berhalter’s future as the American head coach was up in the air, especially with his handling of the Gio Reyna situation in the spotlight.
With the USA’s departure barely a week old, a twist emerged, and suddenly it became apparent that all was not well between Berhalter and Reyna. In a speech at a conference that he allegedly thought was off the record, Berhalter described an anonymous player on the USMNT, who we now know is almost certainly Gio Reyna, who was performing so poorly, and displaying such little effort in training, that the coaching staff considered sending home on a plane. Although the staff did eventually decide to keep Gio around, they did push him to stand up and apologize in front of his teammates:
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.
These rumors were seemingly confirmed this morning, in the form of an earth-shattering report by the Athletic. Per the Athletic’s anonymous sources, Reyna was given a talking-to by USMNT veteran DeAndre Yedlin after he threw his shin pads in response to his lack of time against Wales, and showed a demonstrable lack of effort in training the next day.
This led to an outpouring of criticism towards Reyna, and prompted a response from him within hours:
Gio Reyna responds on Instagram to reports of him almost being sent home from the World Cup by USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. pic.twitter.com/KYgVhZc1AV— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 12, 2022
Notably, his post on Instagram has been liked by many of his USMNT teammates including Joe Scally, Matt Turner, Timothy Ream, and others.
Gio was very open about his lack of professionalism in training, and took responsibility for it, but explained that it was due to the fact that before the World Cup began, Berhalter approached Reyna and informed him that his role in the World Cup would be “very limited.” Upset at this decision, Reyna took out his frustrations in training, but after discussions with the coach and following his apology to his teammates, he expected the matter to be considered closed.
All this has cast a dark shadow over the USMNT, and puts the future of Gregg Berhalter at the helm in question. Reyna’s antics in training may have been unprofessional, but his decision before the tournament to preemptively bench him, and then coming out and throwing him under the bus publicly, is not a good look.
Make no mistake: in no way do I intend on absolving Gio of his part of the blame. Players have a responsibility to their teammates and to themselves to give as much effort as possible, even when they aren’t on the bench. Gio was not the only player who spent much or all of the tournament on the bench, but he was the only one that we know of who threw a fit.
That being said, it appears that Gio is sorry, and I firmly believe he will move on from this. I have never heard or read a negative word about Gio Reyna when it comes to his position at Borussia Dortmund. If anything, he seems very well-liked by his teammates, especially Jude Bellingham, and his former teammate Erling Haaland. I also don’t buy into armchair psychologist analyses of his body language and facial reactions that some people online tend to fall into. I don’t think that this situation has any long term implications for Reyna’s character. I hope he goes on to play a significant role in making BVB’s second half a successful one.
What do you think of the Reyna-Berhalter situation? Should Berhalter be extended? Does this impact your decision? Let me know your thoughts.