Gio Reyna scores first goals since Berhalter saga, USMNT hums to feel-good win over Ghana

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 17: Gio Reyna #7 of the United States celebrates scoring with Christian Pulisic #10 during the first half against Ghana during an international friendly at GEODIS Park on October 17, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)
Gio Reyna's brace helped lift the USMNT past Ghana on Tuesday. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images)

The U.S. men's national team battered Ghana on Tuesday, and had fun doing it. Christian Pulisic scored and smiled. Folarin Balogun erased some of his Saturday frustration. The USMNT flowed forward and bounced back in style from its 3-1 loss to Germany over the weekend.

But no one man's joy was more significant than Gio Reyna's.

Reyna, after 11 uncomfortable months in a searing spotlight, scored his first two USMNT goals since June of 2021, and catalyzed a 4-0 win.

The result, on the road to the 2026 World Cup, was insignificant. The first 45 minutes, though, felt both meaningful and liberating. Reyna scored in the 10th minute, and wheeled away toward the corner flag with a boyish grin spread across his face.

He later roofed an indirect free kick for his second goal of the evening, and the USMNT's fourth. He sprayed the ball around Geodis Park in Nashville as the Americans hummed to a win that seemed settled after 22 minutes.

U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter called it a "man of the match-type performance" — and "besides the goals, it was how he brings players into the attack, how he is able to be calm on the ball ... but then is decisive when making final passes," Berhalter said.

Reyna looked, at once, like the player who's been touted as a generational talent and the kid who enjoyed becoming one.

For the past year, of course, to the American public, he has been controversial — or at least controversy-adjacent. The oft-rehashed, almost unbelievable story began in Qatar, where head coach Gregg Berhalter told Reyna he'd begin the 2022 World Cup on the bench. So Reyna pouted. Berhalter considered sending him home. Berhalter accidentally revealed this, so Reyna's parents went to Berhalter's boss and, toward the end of an hour-long call, revealed that Berhalter had assaulted his then-girlfriend, now-wife when they were college freshmen 31 years ago.

So there was an investigation. A decades-long family friendship between the Berhalters and the Reynas fractured in an incredibly messy, intensely public manner. The soap opera became international news. And Gio, of course, was entangled in it.

Berhalter had once described subbing Reyna in as “almost like you're putting a family member in the game."

Now, for at least eight months beginning in December, the two didn't speak.

The Reyna question loomed over Berhalter's stunning reappointment as USMNT head coach in June. The 20-year-old playmaker still hasn't spoken publicly about the saga and relationship with his head coach. The two finally met via Zoom last month, according to Berhalter, but the situation wasn't just instantly, magically resolved. (On Saturday, after his first USMNT match since Berhalter's return, Reyna spurned the postgame "mixed zone," where players speak with reporters; he instead walked behind reporters with a hood up, headphones on and face expressionless.)

So it was refreshing, naturally, to see Reyna beaming and laughing with teammates Tuesday. Not because there is friction with other players — they all insist there isn't — but simply because, after many trying months, it was great to see Reyna having fun.

His teammates joined the party as well. Sergiño Dest danced around Ghanaians. Tim Weah popped balls over their heads. Pulisic celebrated Reyna's goal, then converted a penalty nine minutes later. Three minutes after that, Tim Weah pounced on a Ghana mistake, and set up Balogun for a slick spin and finish.

Tactically, Berhalter made one notable change, inserting Johnny Cardoso as a defensive midfielder in place of Weston McKennie. Johnny, 22, has been playing the best soccer of his young career at Internacional in Brazil. With the USMNT's starter at his position, Tyler Adams, injured for much of 2023, Berhalter and interim coaches had been piloting a McKennie-Yunus Musah double pivot; but on Tuesday, Johnny slotted into Adams' position, behind Musah and Reyna, and looked very solid.

The caveat to any true takeaways is the opponent. Ghana was dreadful — uninspired, disorganized and seemingly uninterested. The USMNT's front five and fullbacks combined wonderfully in the middle and final thirds; they likely won't be able to do so quite as well against any opponent at next summer's Copa America, nor at the 2026 World Cup.

But the free-flowing performance, and the result, were nonetheless important. They were a feel-good end to an October international window that began in disconcerting fashion. The USMNT will head into November — and a two-leg CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal — with any unease quelled.

"We were disappointed after the Germany game," Berhalter said Tuesday. "And I felt like the team responded really well."