Gio Reyna’s limited playing time for the U.S. men’s national team was one of the biggest storylines of the tournament, and by the time the team was eliminated from the competition nine days ago, it was believed Reyna was simply the victim of circumstance and the good form of other players.
Now we know a bit more, with Gregg Berhalter apparently inadvertently placing a spotlight on the situation with details that had remained hidden until now.
Berhalter spoke at the the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York on December 6, just three days after the USMNT’s elimination from the World Cup in a loss to the Netherlands. In the discussion, which was reportedly supposed to be a private and off the record, Berhalter revealed that there was a USMNT World Cup player who was nearly sent home due to a lack of effort in training. Multiple reports, including reports by The Athletic and ESPN, have since emerged identifying Reyna as the player.
“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” Berhalter said at the Summit, in comments that were revealed in a Charterworks newsletter. “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.”
Berhalter also revealed that the player apologized to his teammates for his actions and behavior, with the Borussia Dortmund star seeming to settle in after the apology, with the team putting the situation in the rearview mirror.
“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,” Berhalter said. “They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.”
Berhalter drew plenty of criticism for Reyna’s lack of playing time at the World Cup, and appeared to offer conflicting statements on why the young standout didn’t play in the USMNT’s World Cup opener against Wales. Initially, Berhalter noted that Reyna had suffered some muscle tightness following a training match prior to the World Cup opener, and said he felt it was “too soon” to bring him back.
Reyna insisted following the Wales match that he was “100 percent”, though he also cited having experienced some muscle tightness. Berhalter eventually clarified his stance on Reyna’s absence from the Wales opener by saying it was not due to any injury and that he had been available to play.
The Reyna situation generated even more interest following comments made by former USMNT star Eric Wynalda claiming Berhalter had lied about Reyna’s injury status and had asked Reyna to also lie about his injury status. Wynalda eventually walked back those statements, but the new revelation of the Reyna situation appears to put at least some context to Wynalda’s initial claims.
Reyna played seven minutes in the 0-0 draw against England, and after failing to appear in the group-stage finale against Iran, Reyna was brought on at halftime of the USMNT’s Round of 16 loss to the Netherlands, with the Americans losing 2-0.