Berhalter-Reyna feud sends USMNT into uncharted territory

Berhalter-Reyna feud sends USMNT into uncharted territory

One of the biggest decisions in U.S. soccer history — the hiring of the men’s national team coach ahead of the 2026 World Cup to be played primarily in the U.S. — has been thrown into chaos by soccer’s biggest problem: angry parents .

Gregg Berhalter’s strange speech at a management conference about the team’s treatment of a disgruntled player during the last World Cup, later identified as Gio Reyna, has sparked a row between two of football’s most prominent families of the country, an independent investigation into Berhalter’s conduct while in college, possible blackmail or harassment of other US Soccer personnel, and an apparent delay in determining the next USMNT manager.

“Obviously, this is not a positive time for soccer in this country and for our men’s national team,” USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s a difficult time for the families involved, and I hope we can find a resolution to this quickly and move forward with our men’s team, as well as American soccer in general.”

Berhalter led the USA to the round of 16 in Qatar, where they were defeated by the Netherlands in a 3–1 loss.

“Soon” may already be out of the question. Berhalter, whose contract expired on Dec. 31, will not be involved when an as-yet unnamed MLS-heavy USA side plays Serbia and Colombia in friendlies later this month. Assistant Anthony Hudson will be in charge. That scenario was always on the table. Stewart planned to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the men’s program after the World Cup, which ended with a round of 16 loss to the Netherlands. The review would then help guide the decision and training approach over the next three years. That process was not expected to be completed until the end of the year, but recent events and revelations have created significantly more questions and uncertainty.

Angered by Berhalter’s comments, which came to light on Dec. 11, and subsequent social media chatter about her son, Reyna’s mother, Danielle—a former USWNT player, wife of the Castle midfielder of National Football Hall of Famer Claudio Reyna and Berhalter’s wife Rosalind’s college roommate — spoke with USSF athletic director Earnie Stewart about a 1991 argument between Gregg and Rosalind during which the future coach kicking his future wife. The pair, then freshmen at North Carolina, quickly reconciled and now have four children.

“I wanted to allow [Stewart] “Know that I was absolutely outraged and devastated that Gio had been put in such a terrible position and that I felt very personally betrayed by the actions of someone my family had considered a friend for decades,” Danielle said in a statement Wednesday. “I thought our conversation would remain private and it didn’t occur to me at the time that anything I said could lead to an investigation.”

But it was done. Operating in a complex climate and under deserved scrutiny for missteps related to the protection (or lack thereof) and treatment of athletes who faced harassment while playing in the NWSL, US Soccer hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into Berhalter’s conduct in 1991. Gregg and Rosalind Berhalter acknowledged the incident in a lengthy statement Tuesday but did not refer to Reyna, saying only that someone was trying to “get something very personal out of a long time ago.” seen to bring the end of [Gregg’s] relations with American football”.

Speaking on Wednesday, USSF CEO JT Batson explained, “We received notification of an allegation that we felt merited a formal investigation. We began an investigation into the alleged incident involving Gregg Berhalter that preceded his time as coach of the men’s national team. This is the investigation we have started.

“Through the course of that investigation, we learned of potentially inappropriate third-party communications and conduct toward U.S. Soccer staff and have included that in the investigation,” Batson continued. “But to clarify, we are investigating the allegation involving Gregg Berhalter as well as the potentially inappropriate comments toward US Soccer staff.”

Parlow Cone, Batson and Stewart declined to go into further detail about that third-party “communication and conduct” and whether it might affect US Soccer’s interest in offering Berhalter a new contract. It’s hard to imagine this week’s investigation and chaos, however, not being a significant factor.

Stewart and USMNT GM Brian McBride already had a lot to consider when evaluating Berhalter’s tenure. On a positive note, Berhalter took charge of the world’s youngest national team and led them to the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup championship and three straight wins over arch-rivals Mexico. The inexperienced Americans navigated a 14-team regional qualifier and reached the second round of the World Cup.

Overall, Stewart said, the cycle was good.

“After a longer period of four years, which I can say has been a successful four years from the group [in charge]. … especially up to what we talked about four and a half years ago, [which] I was getting to a place where identifying our style of play and who we are and how we want to perform in a World Cup, and I can say I was happy with that part,” he said.

Reyna played just 53 minutes in the USA’s four World Cup games.

On the downside, there were concerns about tactical rigidity, player selection and attacking stagnation that seemed to persist as the Americans scored just three goals in four World Cup games and lacked the depth and flexibility to overhaul the Dutch. Additionally, the record for USMNT coaches in a second cycle isn’t great, and it wouldn’t be outlandish to believe that this mature group, which will enter its prime over the next three years, is ready for a new voice.

“You always look forward to 2026. We have an important moment coming up, which will happen [come] faster than we all know,” Stewart said. “We’re an ambitious organization. We want to make sure we do really, really well [in] 2026.”

These are complex questions and are now part of an even more difficult conversation. Berhalter admitted to kicking his then-girlfriend. And while some will say that an 18-year-old’s mistake, for which he apologized, shouldn’t disqualify Berhalter from the job, others will argue that coaching the U.S. national team isn’t just any job.

He would be the face of the program leading up to the biggest event in American soccer annals, working in a sport that has been forced to reckon with its very recent failure to protect and prioritize female players. He is now locked in a strange and sensational feud with old friends – Claudio Reyna was best man at the Berhalters’ wedding – and could face trust issues among players after his unnecessary revelations at that December conference ( USSF (said Berhalter believed his comments were off the record, but that didn’t stop them from coming out).

One of the big questions now facing Stewart and US Soccer is whether Berhalter is worth the extra baggage or distraction that would follow him, at least for a while, if he is offered and accepts a new contract. Another is whether the hiring process is fundamentally flawed. Stewart said he did not know about the 1991 incident even though Berhalter’s brother, Jay, was US Soccer’s CCO when Gregg was hired in late 2018. Gregg and Rosalind Berhalter wrote Tuesday that they had informed their families. The Reynas’ behavior and any possible revelations about their behavior could also affect Claudio, who is currently the sporting director at Austin FC.

Stewart wouldn’t rule Berhalter in or out on Wednesday. Like his USSF colleagues, the man who played alongside Berhalter and Reyna during that famous run to the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals said he was awaiting the results of the independent investigation.

“I work for US Soccer and obviously there’s a history with Gregg—there’s a history just with the US Soccer ecosystem—but I also know what my priorities are when it comes to US Soccer,” Stewart said. “When it comes to our coaching position that we have right now, Gregg Berhalter — until the investigation and [planned technical] review is made – is still under consideration for the head coach job of our US Men’s National Team.”

Asked if Berhalter should be investigated, Batson reiterated, “The investigation is still ongoing. We are awaiting a report from [the law firm] which shows what they’ve found through that, and then through that we’ll be able to make the decision about how we move forward.”

“Going into the beginning of the process, as Earnie mentioned, Gregg is one of the candidates being considered as part of our full review,” the CEO added. “And we’ve agreed that we have to let the investigation play out before we can make any determinations there. Otherwise, they are just hypotheses.”

Stewart would not go into detail about the status of his technical review or whether he had been inclined to offer Berhalter a new deal before Danielle Reyna contacted him last month. But Stewart suggested he was planning for all eventualities.

“My job is also to make sure that American football is in good hands. So one: to make the review. Two: to then look at what’s best for the next four years, and then we have to make determinations about where we are at that point,” Stewart said. “That’s my job, to make sure that there’s a pool of candidates at any given moment — regardless of this moment, or even six months or two years ago — that there’s a pool of candidates that you can think about. So this is part of the work and will be ongoing as we speak.”

So the USMNT now enters uncharted territory. There has been managerial uncertainty before. The Americans played under an interim coach, Dave Sarachan, throughout 2018. Bob Bradley’s tenure was damaged in 2010–11 by former president Sunil Gulati’s pursuit of Jürgen Klinsmann. But these were football matters, with perhaps a bit of sporting politics mixed in. What emerged this week is much different and more disturbing (and extremely unfair to Rosalind Berhalter) – a scandal for which there is no real guide. It doesn’t really matter who runs the January camp. But there’s a Gold Cup this summer and some very real and vital planning to do about how the U.S. will navigate a lackluster but high-stakes qualifying cycle. Getting it right is critical. And so Parlow said they’ll wait until they know everything they need to know — whenever that may be.

“We don’t know,” she said when asked how long it would all take. “It’s completely independent and we want them to follow the facts wherever they lead. But obviously, we need to speed this up so we can name who will be the coach of the men’s national team and start preparing for World Cup ’26. So we want to move quickly, but not rush.”

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