USMNT’s future amid Claudio Reyna bullying report

The findings of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s investigation into the domestic violence incident involving former U.S. men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter and his wife Rosalind — as well as the behavior of Claudio and Danielle Reyna as it related to the World Cup playing time of their son, Gio Reyna — were released on Monday.

The investigation and report, conducted by an independent law firm, corroborated much of the previous reporting done by ESPN and elsewhere in terms of what generally transpired between the Reynas and the Berhalters. But it also added additional details demonstrating the lengths to which the Reynas went in an effort to influence how decision-makers at U.S. Soccer should treat their son, including allegations of “bullying,” and shed new light on the federation’s insular culture.

Here’s a deeper look at how this saga played out, what the investigation found and what it means for those involved.

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How did U.S. Soccer, Berhalter and the Reynas reach a point where an investigation was necessary?

This Shakespearean tale is about a lot of things — friendships ruined, a family’s ambitions for their son, an admitted incident of domestic violence — but it came apart due to the most basic of soccer aspects: playing time, or a lack thereof.

It started with U.S. national team midfielder Gio Reyna enduring an injury-plagued 2021-22 season and Gregg Berhalter’s concerns about Reyna’s fitness, which led the coach to reduce him to a substitute’s role for the World Cup. Reyna sulked as a result, coasting through practices, so much so that Berhalter nearly sent him home.

While there was considerable debate over Reyna’s role among fans and pundits, the story was nearly out of oxygen until Berhalter revealed the incident during a speaking engagement at a leadership conference less than two weeks after the U.S. was knocked out of the World Cup. Berhalter didn’t name names, but speculation immediately pointed to Reyna.

That drew the wrath of the Reyna family. Claudio and Danielle Reyna were already incensed over their son’s lack of playing time, and had made strong hints that there was something in Berhalter’s past that would prevent him from being retained by U.S. Soccer as the team’s head coach.

After demanding a conversation with U.S. Soccer’s then-sporting director Earnie Stewart, Danielle Reyna divulged that Berhalter had committed an act of domestic violence against his now wife Rosalind in 1992. During their freshman year at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the Berhalters got into an argument outside a bar after Rosalind was seen dancing with another student-athlete. Rosalind hit Gregg in the face, after which Gregg pushed her down and kicked her twice. At that point a bystander tackled Gregg, ending the altercation. Police weren’t notified.

Stewart, following federation policy, told U.S. Soccer’s lawyers about the allegation. The federation then hired the law firm Alston & Bird to investigate.

Meanwhile, Berhalter publicly admitted to the incident. His contract as U.S. men’s national team manager expired Dec. 31, 2022.

What new details did the investigation find, and what conclusions did it reach about the conduct of Berhalter and the Reynas?

For the Berhalters, the investigation corroborated their version of events, including that the domestic violence incident did take place. The investigation also confirmed that after the incident, Gregg Berhalter sought counseling as well as community work in a bid to make amends. He and Rosalind later reconciled, got married and now have four children together.

The investigation also concluded that Berhalter didn’t violate any laws or U.S. Soccer policies in not disclosing the incident. Since there was no police report, it wasn’t something that would have popped up on a background check, nor would he have been asked during the interview process about such an incident.

For those reasons, Berhalter is now free to be hired again by U.S. Soccer and remains a candidate to once again take on the role as U.S. men’s national team manager.

As for the Reynas, the report confirmed they pressured U.S. Soccer officials and coaches about playing time for their son, but the investigation found the Reynas had been doing this for several years, which included complaining to a coach at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup about Gio Reyna’s playing time. The report also revealed how far the Reynas were willing to go, with one staffer characterizing Claudio Reyna’s interactions as “inappropriate,” “bullying” and “mean-spirited.”

At the last World Cup, Claudio Reyna texted Earnie Stewart about Gio’s lack of playing time against Wales to say, “What a complete and utter f—ing joke. Our family is disgusted in case you are wondering. Disgusted at how a coach is allowed to never be challenged and do whatever he wants.”

The report found that both Claudio and Danielle Reyna made veiled threats to U.S. Soccer officials that there was something in Berhalter’s past that would prevent him from continuing as the team’s manager. Danielle told a federation staffer, “Once this tournament is over, I can make one phone call and give one interview, and his cool sneakers and bounce passes will be gone.”

Claudio Reyna told Brian McBride, then-GM of the men’s national team: “You guys don’t even know what we know about Gregg.”

So, what does this mean for Gregg Berhalter and his future at U.S. Soccer?

Officially it means there is no reason he can’t be hired by U.S. Soccer again as the federation is looking for a head coach after Berhalter’s contract expired at the end of last year. An argument can be made that his record warrants it, reaching the World Cup knockout stages and winning a pair of continental titles — the Gold Cup and the Nations League, both in 2021– at Mexico’s expense.

But that is far from guaranteed, and there are several reasons why that may not take place.

There is a sense that four years is as long a tenure that national team manager should have before their message gets stale and they become less effective, though there are exceptions. Another lingering concern is how much damage did Berhalter do in terms of the trust of the U.S. men’s national team locker room following his veiled disclosure of Gio Reyna’s behavior at the World Cup.

But the biggest reason of all is the domestic violence issue. Yes, it was from 31 years ago. Yes, the investigation concluded that it was indeed a one-off, and not something that Berhalter repeated. But it did happen, and given how U.S. Soccer has handled abuse allegations in the past — or not handled them — the federation may decide that it’s just easier to move on, and hire someone new. Federation officials, however, have insisted that hiring a head coach is a decision that won’t be made until a new sporting director is hired to replace Earnie Stewart, who left in January for a new job, and they hope to announce a coach by September.

Will Berhalter work in soccer again? Given that he was cleared of wrongdoing here, he will surely have options. But it might benefit him to get some distance from the U.S. program, whether that’s by taking a job overseas, or even in MLS. If he were to be rehired by U.S. Soccer, the heaviness of what has happened in the last six months would still be there. With the U.S. co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico, that is something the federation may decide it can do without.

And what does this mean for the Reynas?

For Gio Reyna, the past six months will weigh on him.

Granted, some of what happened is his fault. His attitude should have been way better, and it shouldn’t have taken an intervention to change it. But he was a bystander in terms of everything that happened after the World Cup and what his parents did. None of that is his fault.

That said, given the questions that will arise at his next U.S. camp, Gio may decide he’s not ready to take part in the international window at the end of the month, when the U.S. face Grenada and El Salvador in the CONCACAF Nations League. But U.S. Soccer clearly wants him in the fold. Interim U.S. men’s national team manager Anthony Hudson has already taken a trip to Germany where Gio plays for Borussia Dortmund in a bid to smooth over any hard feelings. The sooner that Gio returns, the quicker he can move on.

As for his parents, the good news is that the investigation concluded that they didn’t commit blackmail or extortion. But that’s about it.

This entire episode will be extremely difficult to live down for the Reynas, and they managed to come out looking worse as the report revealed that Claudio Reyna declined to speak to investigators while Danielle Reyna changed her story over the course of two interviews. (In her first interview, she denied saying she spoke to Stewart “about anything.” She later admitted she did.)

The level of pettiness, vindictiveness and inability to see the bigger picture, as revealed in the investigation, rivals the worst excesses of pushy, youth soccer parents. The investigation paints this as a long-term pattern from Claudio Reyna — back in 2018, he even took to complaining to a federation official about a U.S. Soccer Development Academy game having female referees, per the report.

Perhaps the most galling part about it is that Gio Reyna’s talent was obvious from an early age; the Reynas didn’t need to do this. His pedigree and talent almost certainly would have gotten him to where he is today.

Now, a lifelong friendship between the Berhalter and Reyna families has been damaged, probably beyond repair, but that might not even compare to the harm done to Claudio Reyna’s professional reputation.

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Claudio Reyna’s public persona was that of the sage — one whose experience in Europe gave him an astute, objective view of where the U.S. stood in the broader soccer landscape, and how best to improve the country’s pedigree as a soccer nation. He was a cerebral player on the field, one who Stewart once said “brought peace to the game.” He projected the same air of calmness to his executive roles. But that façade has been torn off, with Claudio revealing himself to be no more immune to the worst soccer parent impulses than anyone else.

It is now difficult to see how Claudio Reyna can take on any public-facing role and have any credibility at all, no matter his successes with NYCFC and most recently Austin FC. Could he take on a role more in the background? He could. He’s still in an advisory role at Austin, though it’s unclear exactly what that entails. (ESPN has reached out to Austin FC for comment.) But that is a huge come-down from where he once stood. It will take some doing, and considerable time, to even get back to the level which he just recently occupied. He may never make it back.

What’s next for the U.S. Soccer Federation?

This whole saga has also confirmed some rather long-held suspicions about the federation: that it’s too insular, too chummy, too much of a good-old-boy network.

Sure, an executive is bound to hire, or at least make time for, their friends. But Claudio Reyna should never have been allowed to have the kind of access to coaches and executives that he did. That the U.S. Soccer is only now putting together a policy to prevent parent/coach interactions based on the investigation speaks to how much Claudio abused his access.

Now, with Earnie Stewart having vacated his sporting director role, U.S. Soccer will try to move on by hiring Stewart’s replacement, who will in turn drive the search for a men’s national team coach. Federation officials certainly seem to be taking their time about it, a headshaking habit that reared itself during the lengthy process that led to Berhalter’s hiring.

Interviews for the sporting director position are underway, a U.S. Soccer spokesman told ESPN. With the summer months occupying the period on the calendar when the most coaches will be available, the sooner that position is filled the better.