DOHA, Qatar — U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter reportedly said at a leadership summit on Tuesday that he considered sending a player home from the 2022 World Cup because the player “was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field.”
According to multiple reports, the first by MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert, the player was Gio Reyna. Reyna, 20, was expected to be at least a key contributor off the bench for the USMNT in Qatar, but played only eight group-stage minutes.
Speaking at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York shortly after returning from Qatar, Berhalter — according to a lightly edited transcript published by the Charter newsletter — said that, “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.”
Berhalter said both he and the team’s leadership group — a half-dozen experienced players including captain Tyler Adams — were “prepared to” send the player home. Instead, the player eventually apologized to the group. “And from that day on,” Berhalter said at the summit, “there were no issues with this player.”
Shortly after Berhalter’s comments spread in U.S. soccer circles, The Athletic reported that Reyna, who’d shown an alarming lack of effort and intensity in training during the team’s first week in Qatar, apologized to teammates before a video session in between games.
His lack of intensity during a Nov. 17 scrimmage against local club Al Gharafa SC prompted questions within the team about whether he was guarding against an injury, according to The Athletic. The following Monday, Reyna’s lack of involvement in the USMNT’s opener against Wales prompted a flurry of questions among fans and media. Berhalter, at his postgame news conference, said that Reyna had “a little bit of [muscle] tightness that we were guarding against,” but also explained Reyna’s absence tactically. Reyna, speaking to Yahoo Sports that night, acknowledged tightness but said he “definitely felt 100%” by matchday. Three days later, Berhalter said it was a “coach’s decision” to not play him.
Per The Athletic, Reyna reacted with frustration to his “DNP” in the opener, and continued to show insufficient effort in training — at which point both players and coaches confronted him about it.
Berhalter, who did not name Reyna at the summit, said of the anonymous player: “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, ‘OK, 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.”
Reyna played eight minutes against England, then zero against Iran. Berhalter, when asked about his lack of involvement ahead of the team’s Round of 16 game against the Netherlands, offered a tactical explanation.
“I think a lot of it comes down to timing and circumstance,” Berhalter said. “If you look at how the games have unfolded, we’ve had the lead and had to hold on to the lead later in games. The only game that we didn’t have that scenario, we actually put him in to help get the victory. So it’s just how we can use him in the most effective way. Really talented player, and we’re looking for the right moment. But he can no doubt help his team.”
Reyna then played the entire second half of a 3-1 loss to the Dutch, which eliminated the USMNT.
He has since played, and scored, for his club, Borussia Dortmund, in a friendly.
It’s unclear why Berhalter chose to detail the situation with the anonymous player just three days after the USMNT’s elimination. A U.S. Soccer spokesman said in an email that the summit was "explicitly off the record," and that Berhalter did not expect his comments to be published. The writer of the newsletter, Kevin Delaney, told Yahoo Sports in an email Berhalter's comments were "at a gathering held under the Chatham House Rule and were originally not meant to be public, but were (apparently erroneously) greenlit for publication by someone representing the event organizers."
U.S. Soccer and Berhalter are both currently deciding whether to extend the coach’s contract, which expires after the 2022 World Cup.
Responding to The Athletic's report, Reyna's agent issued a statement: “Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup. The situation, relationships and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported. It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.
“At this point, our view is that nothing more is gained by those associated with the national team turning on each other, and we plan no further comment on this matter.”