The rumored tension between USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter and precocious talent Giovanni Reyna was confirmed with the final call, as the old horror movie cliché goes, coming from inside the house: Berhalter provided all the saucy details and headline leading quotes during a *checks notes* HOW Institute for Society's Summit on Moral Leadership.
I can only imagine that of all the cutting-edge PowerPoint presentations on show, Berhalter's was the only one that dovetailed building "a culture of moral leadership, principled decision-making and values-based behavior" with extreme verticality and recognizing all the triggers of a successful press.
Berhalter didn't name names during his speech, but his anecdote was so painfully obvious as to who he was referencing that it was immediately confirmed to be Reyna once news broke.
The USMNT "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."
The most important thing Berhalter said there — and this is both damaging to Reyna's reputation and something that should've never been made public — is that Reyna was actually almost sent home. Maybe Berhalter thought this was just a small detail that he let slip to impress his audience at the HOW Institute, but it created a wave of headlines all saying the exact same thing: Reyna was being such a piece of work that he was getting sent home!
Berhalter added: "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's 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.”
According to the report, the timeline was this: Reyna's lowest moment came in a pre-World Cup, behind-closed-doors scrimmage against Al Gharafa. He also hadn't been training with the proper intensity and this amounted to Reyna not getting a minute against Wales. Reyna's response to that was frustration but that led directly to clear the air talks. Everything improved dramatically after that, but Berhalter — despite increasingly ineffective performances from an inconsistent Tim Weah on the right — kept Reyna on the bench.
And that's where this whole situation could've been so easily swept under the rug. Reyna didn't get the minutes anyone expected in Qatar, but there was previously some logic in Berhalter saying "I think a lot of it comes down to timing and circumstance. ... 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."
Now we know that it was more personal than that. And it was enough to see Reyna emotionally crushed after the Netherlands game, but to have your 49-year-old manager — just three days after elimination — throwing him under the bus of a World Cup news cycle that's still nonstop and omnipresent is a pathetic styling of "moral leadership."
On ESPN, Alejandro Moreno, when asked why he thought Berhalter made this information public, said it was because the manager was protecting himself. I agree in that I think it was a massive piece of egoism, if only momentary, that perfectly exemplifies why he doesn't have the experience, nuance or man-management skills necessary to lead the USA on home soil at the 2026 World Cup.
Berhalter quickly reached out to ESPN to save face, but it was clear he recognized the error of his ways: "It's not really important who it was," he comically backtracked. "The important thing is that the group had very clear standards and they were prepared to communicate if the standards weren't being met. Sometimes that communication leads to positive change and a clear pathway forward."
The stupidity of it all is really revealed by Berhalter stressing that the presentation was supposed to be off the record — none of this was supposed to come to light. He was supposed to get away with dragging a kid who just turned 20 on Nov. 13 at this little event for "moral leaders."
So Gio Reyna didn't show up to play in Qatar. He was hugely punished for that by getting only 52 minutes. He doesn't need any further punishment from his own manager or the legions of internet warriors who want to exact more from a situation that's already gone on far too long.
Reyna hopefully still has three World Cups to really shine for the U.S. Berhalter shouldn't be around for a second.
UPDATE: REYNA RESPONDS ON INSTAGRAM
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