Multiple sources close to the U.S. men’s national team have provided details to The Athletic that help explain attacker Gio Reyna’s lack of involvement at the World Cup.
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.
The drama surrounding Reyna crescendoed during the Wales game, when Reyna threw his shin guards after not being subbed in, and then into a post-Wales training session in which Reyna’s lack of effort continued again. It prompted several veteran players to speak with Reyna, including DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Long, who pulled him aside and urged him to show more effort moving forward.
The sources said that the situation became untenable and that it had to be addressed multiple times, including with the coaching staff, until, finally, Reyna stood up before a video session and apologized to his teammates for his initial lack of intensity and said he understood he was part of a collective group. After the apology, several players on the team spoke up to hold Reyna accountable for his actions. Sources said players believed the group and its culture would be able to overcome the issues after Reyna’s apology, and that the 20-year-old turned a corner in regards to his effort in training. Within the team, the issues with Reyna ended there, the sources said.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter appeared to reference the Reyna situation without naming the player at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday, comments that were published in a Charterworks newsletter this week.
“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” Berhalter said. “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, ‘OK, this guy is 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.
“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it, because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”
Multiple attempts to reach Reyna’s agent were not immediately successful.
Some of the issues with Reyna leaked out into the public during the tournament after Reyna did not play against Wales.
Berhalter used his first four subs while the U.S. led that match 1-0, then chose to bring winger Jordan Morris on for Tim Weah after Wales equalized in the 82nd minute. After the match, Berhalter explained his decision to opt for Morris over Reyna, saying that “in the phase of the game that we were at, we went with Jordan, who we felt could give us something with speed and power.” He noted that the team had done a “last-minute check” on Reyna, deemed him “OK” and said that he envisioned him playing a role against England in the U.S.’s second match of the group stage.
Asked to clarify what the last-minute check was for, Berhalter said “you could see there was a little bit of tightness” during the scrimmage with Al Gharafa a few days prior, that the team had been “building him up” and that “we think he can play a big role in this tournament — question is when, and hopefully on Friday (against England) he’ll be one further step ahead.”
A few minutes later, Reyna told reporters in the mixed zone that he was fully healthy.
“I felt good, I felt ready to go,” Reyna said. “But it was just his decision.”
On the day of the England game, former U.S. national team forward Eric Wynalda brought up Reyna’s lack of playing time during a Twitter Spaces with LA Times columnist Dylan Hernandez. Wynalda claimed that there was “internal strife” within the team about Berhalter’s decision to not play Reyna. He also alleged that Berhalter lied to the media when he told reporters after the Wales match that he held Reyna out of that match because of an injury. Wynalda claimed that he had spoken with Gio’s father Claudio, the former U.S. captain and Berhalter’s childhood friend and teammate at multiple World Cups.
“With Gio Reyna out of the lineup right now, which has been a massive controversy within the team — even his own teammates are wanting him on the field and it seems to be (causing) internal strife with the (team) and manager Gregg Berhalter,” Wynalda said. “I don’t know how much I should comment on that, but I’ve been trying to console Gio’s father, Claudio, for the last couple of hours, well, the last couple of days with everything that’s been going on. He was fit to play, Berhalter did lie to the media and say that it was an injury, ask the player to kind of go along with that story, which caused a rift between the two of them and now he’s on the bench which is really unfortunate. The situation should have been handled very differently.”
Wynalda slightly backed off his initial comments in a tweet posted to his account the day after his initial comments.
Berhalter wasn’t asked about Wynalda’s claims in his press conferences before or after the England game, though he did clarify in an answer that it was a “coach’s decision” not to play Reyna against Wales. Reyna played seven minutes against England. Berhalter then was asked before the Iran game if there was any rift between him and Gio Reyna and if he had, as Wynalda alleged, lied to the media and instructed Reyna to tell reporters that he was hurt after the Wales match.
“Speaking of the four-year journey, right, there’s been also four years of interacting with you guys (the press contingent). And what I’d say is, you know, I’ll leave it to you to decide if I asked Gio to lie about it,” Berhalter said. “That’s just not who I am. That’s not what I represent. So, you know, if you have to take Eric’s word or my word or whatever, feel free, but I know what happened, that’s not what I represent. Like every other person, Gio is a member of this team that we care deeply for and we know can help the team. It’s a matter of when he can help us and how he can help us.”
Shortly after that response, Wynalda walked back his initial statement even further on his SiriusXM show.
On Counter Attack, @EricWynalda clarified comments he made about #USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter on Twitter Spaces with the @latimes.
Hear the entire conversation with @KeithCostigan here – https://t.co/cv63ZlzuVl pic.twitter.com/9J2DQK2mIK
— SiriusXM FC 157 ⚽️📻 (@SiriusXMFC) November 28, 2022
Reyna didn’t end up playing against Iran on Nov. 29 as the U.S. spent the second half protecting a narrow 1-0 lead.
“I think a lot of it comes down to timing and circumstance,” Berhalter said before facing the Netherlands in the round of 16. “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.”
Berhalter did use Reyna more significantly in the U.S.’s loss to the Netherlands on Dec. 3. Down 2-0 at halftime, he brought the Borussia Dortmund attacker on for the second half, then shifted him to the wing when he inserted center forward Haji Wright. Reyna largely failed to make an impact in the contest, ending his first World Cup having played a total of 52 minutes as the U.S. were eliminated having scored just three goals in four matches.
Reyna scored for Dortmund in a shortened, 60-minute friendly against Rapid Bucharest, the fourth-place team in the Romanian SuperLiga on Saturday in the “Christmas Cup” in Bucharest.
(Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton)
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