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How the relationship between the USMNT coach and one of its star players publicly exploded

The mystery of why the Borussia Dortmund star didn’t feature much for the USMNT in Qatar has been solved.

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Netherlands v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Just when you thought the USMNT was an afterthought at the 2022 World Cup, one of the biggest storylines of their tournament run hit an unexpected climax after their elimination.

On Sunday, the reason as to why Giovanni Reyna was left on the bench and played sparingly by head coach Gregg Berhalter was “revealed” to the world under very weird circumstances.

In what was apparently supposed to be an off-the-record chat at a leadership summit, Berhalter shared a story of an unnamed player who came to the USA’s World Cup training camp with a poor attitude. After multiple incidents, including the mystery player not giving full effort in the team’s only pre-tournament scrimmage against a local Qatari team, the possibility of sending him home was discussed among the staff.

Unbeknownst to Berhalter or U.S. Soccer, the notes from the summit were published in a newsletter almost immediately following the event for the whole world to easily see. Berhalter went in-depth about the decision to ultimately have one final meeting with the player and allowing him to stay with the team.

“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.” via charterworks.com

As soon as the statements came to light, speculation that the player was Reyna spread like wildfire. The link seemed obvious after the midfielder saw very limited minutes in Qatar despite being one of, if not the most, talented players on the team.

The postulation quickly turned to confirmation when The Athletic published a report with details on the matter that it was, in fact, Reyna who was nearly banished from the World Cup squad. According to the report, the son of former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna faced his teammates and apologized to keep his spot on the team.

This apology was a stipulation for Reyna to stay with the squad, according to Berhalter, who tasked his staff and select players who form a “leadership group” with voting on whether or not to dismiss the Dortmund star.

“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, ‘Okay, 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. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.”

A day after the initial revelations, Reyna took to his Instagram account to give his side of the story. He admitted his faults and revealed that the reason for his actions were due to being informed by Berhalter early on that his involvement in the tournament would be limited, thus causing his immature reaction.

“I am also a very emotional person, and I fully acknowledge that I let my emotions get the best of me and affect my training and behavior for a few days after learning about my limited role. I apologized to my teammates and coach for this, and I was told I was forgiven. Thereafter, I shook off my disappointment and gave everything I had on and off the field.” - via Gio Reyna on Instagram

It’s not uncommon for a young player to act out, especially when receiving such unsettling news in the build-up to a tournament that is considered the pinnacle of the sport. Mistakes happen in sports and it’s how you rebound from those mistakes that matter most. In the end, Reyna won’t be judged for throwing a tantrum after being told he wouldn’t play a big part at the World Cup. He’ll be judged on how he learns from the incident and carries on in his career.

Whether or not Berhalter remains the head coach of the U.S. national team moving forward, Reyna’s redemption arc will be a massive storyline going into the 2026 World Cup. If U.S. Soccer does decide to keep the current coach for the next cycle, all eyes will be on how that relationship is repaired.