USMNT legend to 'mean-spirited bully': Claudio Reyna's reputation deservedly in tatters after investigation reveals years of bad behavior
Claudio Reyna is one of the finest players American soccer has ever produced. That is undisputed. But his legacy and reputation are no longer defined by his stellar playing career. The Google searches won't bring you straight to stories about his on-field heroics or highlights of his best moments.
No, these days, Reyna's legacy is defined by all that's gone on between his family and Gregg Berhalter since the World Cup.
The clash between two of American soccer's most famous families plunged the entire U.S. men's national team into controversy as a decades-old domestic violence incident was dug up as retribution for USMNT and Borussia Dortmund star Gio Reyna's lack of playing time at the World Cup.
Following the results of an independent investigation released on Monday, it's become clear that while Berhalter's own transgressions were an isolated incident that he has publicly apologized for and doesn't deny, Reyna's were an out-of-control pattern that for too long went without discipline.
The report, put together by Alston & Bird, details a number of unsavory allegations about the Reyna family's influence within U.S. Soccer while also revealing a series of events that have seen Claudio Reyna evolve from USMNT hero into, as the report says, a "mean-spirited bully".
GOAL is here to break down the report, the series of incidents involving Reyna and what this all will mean for his reputation and employment going forward.
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What we knew
By now, all who follow American soccer know the general story, but it's worth a refresher.
Due to fitness issues, Gio Reyna is given a limited role at the World Cup by USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter, a longtime friend of the Reyna family. The winger doesn't handle it well initially and his effort in training drops. He is eventually given an ultimatum: try harder or go home. He apologizes, returns to the team and continues on.
Meanwhile, his parents, Claudio and Danielle, are unhappy and communicate that. with people around the program, and right after the World Cup, address it again with sporting director Earnie Stewart. During their talks with Stewart, Danielle reveals that Berhalter assaulted his now-wife and then-girlfriend Rosalind during their time at the University of North Carolina, where then-girlfriend Rosalind roomed with Danielle.
An investigation follows, both into the allegations made by the Reynas, the process of Berhalter's hiring and the manner in which those allegations were revealed on the heels of the 2022 World Cup.
Even prior that investigation, the Reynas' reputation had taken a hit, with many seeing them as overbearing parents who wielded a very personal decades-old incident involving two close friends to help their son. But, as it turns out, the family's World Cup actions were just the tip of the iceberg in what has been a longstanding pattern of meddling into their son's career.
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The investigation itself
As part of the investigation, Alston & Bird contacted various figures around U.S. Soccer, including the Reynas and the Berhalters. Berhalter, the report says, was very forthcoming, speaking to investigators on the record without legal counsel while helping to facilitate interviews with other persons of interest.
He and his wife acknowledged the incident, which occurred when the two were teenagers.
Both corroborated the fact that Berhalter was immediately remorseful, went to counseling, volunteered and has never done anything similar in all of the years since. It was a mistake that, to this day, still haunts him, he says, but one he didn't run away from once it became public.
By the end, the investigation determined that Berhalter, legally, would not be a risk to remain USMNT head coach - and U.S. Soccer has subsequently kept the door open for him to be brought back.
As for the Reynas, investigators said they were less forthcoming. The report says: "We were less impressed with the Reynas’ cooperation during the investigation."
After several attempts at securing interviews, Danielle Reyna had two brief conversations with investigators, in which she initially denied ever telling Stewart about the Berhalter incident. She called investigators back shortly after and changed her story, detailing a "physical fight".
Claudio Reyna, meanwhile, did not speak to investigators, with the family's attorney instead offering to give a "proffer" of information on their client's behalf.
In the end, Claudio Reyna did not interview with investigators in any way.
'Inappropriate, bullying, mean-spirited'
The investigation says that the 2022 World Cup was far from the first time Reyna tried to use his status with U.S. Soccer to assist his son Gio's career.
The report details a "pattern of outreach" dating back several years, with several unnamed figures revealing incidents involving Claudio Reyna.
One source described Reyna's interactions with those at U.S. Soccer as “inappropriate,” “bullying,” and “mean-spirited", as the legendary midfielder is said to have meddled several times.
In February 2016, the report says, Reyna complained to U.S. Soccer officials about a red card that his son received in a match as he attempted to persuade the federation to overturn the dismissal and allow the midfielder to play in the next game. U.S. Soccer did not overturn the decision.
Stewart said that Reyna began making complaints about his son's playing time within U.S. Soccer as early as 2019, when he reached out to complain about his son's role at the U-17 World Cup. Additionally, Reyna hit out at what he saw as inadequate travel arrangements as his son did not fly business class to join the team.
Stewart told investigators that he has never had similar discussions with other parents.
Berhalter, meanwhile, revealed that he too had received complaints from Reyna during that U-17 World Cup, as his longtime friend texted him to say that then-Under-17 boss Raphael Wicky was "the worst coach". Berhalter also provided the investigation with text messages from 2019 and 2020 that saw Reyna criticize his son's treatment, coaches and travel arrangements.
“When things don’t go great for Gio, [the Reynas] pivot and go into attack mode," Berhalter told investigators.
'Can we get real and get male refs?'
Perhaps the most damning revelation from the report details an incident that saw Reyna complain about a female referee following a 2018 match.
“Field, referee everything!! So embarrassing all the way around,” Reyna said in an email before sending a follow-up message that stated: “And in all honest [sic] can we get real and have male refs for a game like this. Its embarrassing guys. What are we trying to prove? A game like this deserves bett[e]r attention."
An unnamed person interviewed by the report circulated the email internally, saying: “This is truly sad to see. I believe we should regroup internally . . . and decide the path we want to take. After this and his communication last week, this is not appropriate or acceptable.”
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At the World Cup
The report has offered a bit of clarity regarding the environment at the World Cup and the tension that emerged following the decision to bench Gio Reyna.
After the first match against Wales, Reyna texted Stewart: "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.”
Additionally, Reyna texted USMNT general manager Brian McBride: “Our entire family is disgusted, angry, and done with you guys. Don’t expect nice comments from anyone in our family about US Soccer. I’m being transparent to you not like the political clown show of the federation."
Following that match against Wales, the Reyna family refused to ride on the USMNT friends and family bus, which they had traveled to the game on alongside Berhalter's family. They eventually took a space on a different bus without Berhalter's friends and family.
The day after the match, Danielle Reyna is said to have told an unnamed person: "You’re talking about 40 years of history between us, for something like this to happen," before adding something along the lines of: “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."
Berhalter said that, prior to that match, his wife and Ms. Reyna spoke daily but, following the match, the two didn't speak.
"There were 150 people in the Friends and Family program at this year’s World Cup," Berhalter said. "All were having a great time – except for five people who were absolutely miserable. Those five were cursing, acting horribly. It was the Reynas."
McBride said that he and Stewart met with the Reyna's following the USMNT's match against England. McBride added that a meeting would not typically occur to appease disgruntled parents, but was held due to Reyna's status with the federation.
At the meeting, the report indicates, Reyna said: "You guys don’t even know what we know about Gregg,” but he offered no additional details.
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After the tournament
We all know what happened next.
Berhalter's comments about Gio Reyna's efforts go public, the Reynas reveal the incident to Earnie Stewart and so begins this great public unraveling of this longtime friendship.
The report says that the investigation found no reason that would have prevented the Reynas from reporting the incident to U.S. Soccer at any time prior to their son's World Cup disappointment. Stewart, for his part, said that he believed the Reynas disclosed the investigation to him to prevent U.S. Soccer from hiring Berhalter for another cycle.
The investigation concluded, though, that no laws were broken and no U.S. Soccer policies were violated. So, while the situation is ugly and messy, there are no legal repercussions for anyone involved.
In short, Berhalter messed up and has apologized. The Reynas made several mistakes and cannot be punished for them by the federation. And U.S. Soccer is now left to clean up a pretty big mess.
A reputation in tatters
While legally none involved will be impacted, all involved have seen their names dragged through the mud in the public sphere.
Berhalter, to start, may very well lose the chance to coach the team for a second cycle due to this mess. He remains a candidate, U.S. Soccer says, but the decision will ultimately lie with a new sporting director.
Claudio Reyna, meanwhile, has seen his reputation take the biggest hit of all. Long heralded as perhaps the most talented player American soccer has ever produced, Reyna's on-field accolades are undeniable. His career, which saw him play for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City in Europe before featuring for the New York Red Bulls in MLS, is matched by few in American soccer history. He earned over 110 caps, played in four World Cups and is a National Soccer Hall of Famer.
However, all of that will now come with an asterisk stemming from this incident and the numerous ones preceding it. A man that was once seen as an American soccer icon is now viewed as a meddling parent who was willing to throw a longtime friend under the bus due to some perceived mistreatment of his son. The repeated use of his reputation at U.S. Soccer as a weapon is something one would expect from a youth-team parent, not a Stars and Stripes legend.
One thing that should not be lost in this, too, is the blatant sexism towards the female referee. It won't get the headlines that some of the more scandalous aspects of this report will obviously get, but that incident serves as only one more blow to a legacy that is now in tatters.
It's sad to see it all go like this as Reyna, for years, was one of American soccer's most beloved figures. Now, he's one of the most controversial and most ridiculed as he ended up representing many of the darkest parts of the U.S. soccer ecosystem at the highest level imaginable.
What's next for Claudio Reyna?
Reyna resigned as sporting director of Austin FC in January but transitioned into a Technical Advisor role. That might not last, though, as it's difficult to see how he could continue with Austin in any capacity and, to be honest, it's hard to see him being a desirable hire for any club in American soccer.
The pattern of behavior dates all the way back to his time in charge at New York City FC, who employed him until he left the club in November 2019. The entirety of these incidents come while Reyna was in charge of running an MLS team.
His reputation as a meddler certainly won't help, nor will his sexist remarks about the female referee. For at least some time, Reyna will be very much defined by these incidents and not the legacy he built as a player nor as a team-builder with NYCFC and Austin FC.
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What's next for Gregg Berhalter?
The waiting game will continue.
Investigators praised Berhalter's honestly and cooperation, adding that there would be no legal reason to not bring him back as USMNT head coach. Still, that may not be enough to justify rehiring him.
U.S. Soccer will likely be eager to finally move past this whole mess and into a new era to start the 2026 cycle. Bringing back Berhalter, despite Monday's revelations, would make that more difficult.
It all will also depend on who the federation hires as sporting director in a decision that should come before the summer.
What's next for Gio Reyna?
Gio Reyna's attitude at the World Cup wasn't good and he has since atoned for it. He is continuing to work his way back into the picture with Borussia Dortmund and, at just 20 years old, remains one of the most purely talented players to ever emerge from the American soccer system.
This whole incident will hang over his career, fairly or unfairly, for quite some time. The hope for all involved is now to see the talented winger write his own legacy, create his own path, without his parents' help or influence.
Reyna will now have to stand on his own as his last name, which was once an asset, will now be something of a weight. We'll see how his teammates react to everything and what sort of outreach the new USMNT coach does once this all settles but, for the sake of both Reyna and American soccer, let's hope this can all be put in the past sooner rather than later.
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What's next for U.S. Soccer?
And finally, the federation.
There's much work to be done in the coming months as U.S. Soccer will need to truly rebuild the USMNT's leadership while the USWNT prepares for a World Cup.
As things stand, a sporting director and a USMNT head coach still need to be put in place, but it's also clear that U.S. Soccer probably needs some fine-tuning when it comes to company policies to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.
It's pretty fair to say that no parent should attempt to wield as much power as Claudio Reyna did over the last few years, no matter their status. Some sort of safeguards will need to be put in place to prevent incidents like this from happening again in an American soccer community that is, in many ways, smaller than most realize.
Do you accomplish that by hiring outside of the American soccer bubble? Should the federation turn to new voices? Is it as simple as putting forth a policy to prevent outsiders from meddling?
That's up to them to decide. The federation has a lot of work to do.