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Who Is Gio Reyna, The USMNT Player At Center Of Controversy?

United States head coach Gregg Berhalter revealed a player was nearly sent home from the World Cup in Qatar over lack of effort and subsequent reports identified Giovanni Reyna as the athlete in question.

By Andrew Woodin
Giovanni Reyna of United States of America during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA

Coming fresh off the UMNT’s early exit from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, USA’s coach Gregg Berhalter spoke at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York, but it was what he revealed in one specific nugget about his squad’s previously unknown internal strife that really turned heads.

“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” Berhalter disclosed during the forum and later transcribed by the Charter Works newsletter. “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.”

Further compounding the optics of the issue is that, as reported major outlets like The Athletic and ESPN, that player was none other than soccer royalty, Giovanni Reyna, son of legendary USMNT captain and former Manchester United player Claudio Reyna. Still, Berhalter afforded the young Reyna no special treatment, holding him to the same standard he applied to all his players.

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“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,” continued Berhalter. “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.’”

“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,’ Berhalter added. “They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.”

Everyone makes mistakes, and taking ownership for those mistakes is great and all, but Reyna was supposed to be a key asset for Berhalter, alongside veterans and long-time teammates Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. Where did it all go sideways?

Though he played the entire second half of the Netherlands’ 3-1 win over the United States, Reyna never made it to the pitch against Iran nor Wales and only played a handful of minutes in the USMNT’s 0-0 draw against England – a dramatic departure from that critical role he was expected to play in Qatar.

According to The Athletic, issues began with Reyna during a scrimmage against Al Gharafa SC on Nov. 17. The 20-year-old midfielder, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, reportedly “showed an alarming lack of effort in training” in the friendly warm-up for the World Cup-bound USMNT, and his behavior “caused significant frustration within the team.” During the match, Reyna could be seen generally “walking around,” leaving teammates to question whether he was injured or if he was upset about not earning a starting spot in the team’s first match against Wales.  

If these accounts are accurate, Reyna appears to have a lot of maturing to do, but he’s a truly gifted player for a U.S. program that is desperate to close the talent gap with the top international sides. In fact, he surpassed Pulisic’s record to become the youngest Dortmund player to compete in a Champions League match. He’s blessed with speed and finishing power, making him equally dangerous on the run as he is from free-kick set pieces. He also possesses immaculate passing vision, able to thread the ball through defenders or weave in and out of congested lanes on attack. However, his health has been problematic during his stint at Dortmund, with various injuries relegating him to the rehab room and cutting into valuable development time.

All in all, though, he’s an exceptional talent and could be critical to the U.S.'s success as it aims to take the next step as a footballing nation in the 2026 World Cup, which will just so happen to be played in North America, with the U.S., Mexico and Canada all sharing hosting duties. If he can learn from this experience and channel his frustrations into fuel to hone his craft, this could be a positive turning point for him. Or it could go the other way. But he need only look to what's happened between Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to learn that even the most massive stars aren't bigger than the team.

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