Though he did not mention attacking midfielder Gio Reyna by name while speaking at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last week, United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter appeared to reference the talented winger when he revealed that a player was almost sent home from the World Cup in Qatar due to a lack of effort in training and in a pre-tournament scrimmage.
Berhalter’s remarks, which U.S. Soccer says were “explicitly off the record” despite being made at a summit in front of a large group of people, were published in the Charterworks newsletter.
“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,” Berhalter said. “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.”
According to The Athletic, that apology took place after Reyna gave poor effort in a training session following the U.S. drawing with Wales in their first match in Qatar after he became so upset with not being subbed into the 1-1 tie that he threw his shin guards. Following the 20-year-old’s apology, his effort in training sessions “turned a corner” and Reyna’s issues with his teammates “ended there,” sources told The Athletic. Whether Reyna, who played sparingly against England and was on the pitch for the second half against the Netherlands for a grand total of 52 minutes of playing time in Qatar, was able to get back in Berhalter and the USMNT’s coaching staff’s good graces seems a bit unclear.
“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,” Reyna’s agent, Dan Segal, told The Athletic. “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.”
So how close was Reyna to being sent home from Qatar? It depends on who you ask and what you believe.
Per one report, Reyna’s status came down to a 13-12 vote amongst players that ended up in the young forward’s favor.
However, former USMNT member and current media member Taylor Twellman claims that reports about a 13-12 vote are false.
Either way, it seems fairly clear that things between Reyna, Berhalter and the rest of the team were not exactly on strong footing in Qatar and that off-pitch issues may have hurt the U.S. team during their brief World Cup run as the Americans managed to score just three goals in four games. At least they’ve got four years to figure it out before 2026 when the world’s top soccer tournament returns to North America.