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G. Reyna

The Reyna World Cup mystery has been solved - how the USMNT deal with it will define 2026 cycle

5:00 PM WAT 12/12/2022
Gio Reyna USMNT 2022
Reports have emerged to explain why the Dortmund star barely featured in Qatar, but it's now time for all involved to embrace a clean slate

Well, we now have a pretty good idea of what happened with Gio Reyna at the World Cup.It was the biggest U.S. men's national team mystery in Qatar, but it's now been solved. And, now that we know what happened, there's still one massive question that needs answering.

Now what?

For those who might have missed it (and where have you been if you did?), Reyna - perhaps the USMNT's most naturally-gifted player - was a complete non-factor at the World Cup. He appeared just twice off the bench in Qatar, with both the player and head coach Gregg Berhalter offering different explanations regarding his injury status.

It all was a bit weird, with the expectation that details from behind the scenes would soon emerge. They have now.

According to a report from TheAthletic, Reyna was almost sent home from Qatar due to a startling lack of effort. Frustrated about his place, or lack thereof, in the team, Reyna reportedly mailed it in, infuriating not just the coaching staff, but several of his teammates.

That reporting lines up with quotes from Berhalter who, at a conference that he believed was off the record, explained that an unnamed player was nearly kicked off the team before a serious and heartfelt apology was issued to the rest of the squad.

“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field. 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,” Berhalter said in quotes published by Charterworks. “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.

"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."

It's a bad look for Reyna, whose agent refuted some aspects of the report in a statement to The Athletic, saying: “Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup. The situation, relationships and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported. It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.

“At this point, our view is that nothing more is gained by those associated with the national team turning on each other, and we plan no further comment on this matter.”

So now we know. The reason behind Reyna's benching was a reported conflict between the talented 20-year-old and, seemingly, the rest of the team. At some point, the team held him accountable and he held himself accountable and, in theory, this all should just be in the past, right? Well, that's the big question, isn't it?

What happened in Qatar is in the past. It's over, done, and probably should never have ended up in the public sphere. But it has, and now everyone involved will need to sort out how to handle this mess going forward.

The entire USMNT fanbase has been choosing sides, Team Gregg versus Team Gio, for some time, and these reports did nothing but give each side more ammo in that fight. Battle lines have been drawn and arguments are still being made.

Those on Team Gregg will point to the man management of it all, how Berhalter handled a young player's first real test of adversity by teaching him the importance of what this all means. They'll point to how the culture of the USMNT built under Berhalter's guidance held that player accountable, with other members of the team stepping in to say that it wasn't good enough. They'll see what happened as a good lesson for a young player that will have many more chances at World Cup glory.

But those on Team Gio will point to how poor it looks that all of this has now gone public. They'll point to Reyna's talent, to his importance to this team's present and future, to the fact that he may have been able to influence the World Cup more than he did on that talent alone. They'll say that, if there is a choice between Berhalter and Reyna going forward, the U.S. can do nothing but stick by Reyna's side for the good of their program. No coach is worth losing a player like Reyna over.

So we go back to that question: now what?

Well, while we don't know who will be coaching the USMNT next year, mending things with Reyna will be their first priority. This saga may end up marking the end of Berhalter's tenure, though, as it may be vital for all involved to get a fresh start rather than try and repair the fairly obvious damage that will come from this all going public.

During the World Cup, Berhalter handled it well, and it's worth noting his close relationship with Reyna's father, ex-USMNT star Claudio. He didn't let it derail the actual World Cup, but his comments, whether on or off the record, should probably have stayed private.

Whether it's Berhalter or someone else, there is no more important task facing the USMNT in 2023 than making sure that Reyna remains a key part of this group.

He's that talented and he has that much potential. Yes, this World Cup was, from his point of view, a disaster. But you can't let Reyna get away from the big picture. On the road to 2026, few will be more important than him, even if he, if this ordeal is anything to go by, still has a lot to learn.

He'll learn it and be better because of it, that's for sure. It's something Weston McKennie went through just last year when he was sent home from the USMNT. It's something, to be fair, that most young players go through in their careers at one point or another. Young players, by nature, screw up sometimes. It's unfortunate that Reyna's screw-up came on the biggest stage possible.

How all involved bounce back from this will define the next cycle, and it will take some work from all involved.

The coach, whoever it is, will need to keep Reyna involved and engaged. After this World Cup, Reyna will no doubt be a bit down on himself. The coach will need to help build him back up, giving him a bit of confidence that, despite what happened, he's still a key player. They'll need to keep holding him accountable, yes, but the best way to follow up tough love is to show actual love to a player and person that will certainly need it.

Reyna himself will need to make amends and shut down any doubts about his attitude or work ethic. This cloud will hang over him for quite a while, but it's nothing that can't be overcome. Put your head down for club and country, take it on the chin and move on as a better player with a major learning experience in your back pocket.

Reyna is a 20-year-old kid, after all, and few could blame him for struggling to contain his emotions as what was supposed to be the biggest moment of his life didn't go as he'd always expected.

And, for the rest of the USMNT players, it'll be about continuing on with the foundations built over the last few years. The U.S. team has proven that it is bigger than any player and that they can stick together even in moments like this. They're a group of young players, but they held Reyna, their friend and teammate, accountable when he was letting them down. That deserves praise.

If anything should be taken away from all of this, it's a bit of respect for how a young group of players handled this and, ultimately, set the tone for anyone and everyone involved with this national team group.

Reyna wasn't bigger than the team in Qatar. He won't be bigger than the team in 2026. But he remains a key part of it, one piece of a larger overall puzzle that still needs work over the next three-and-a-half years.

Now, the world will be watching as all involved put that puzzle back together after this Qatar controversy. This can and should be a learning experience, a true turning point where the USMNT came together and set a standard that even its most talented players adhere to.