The damage done by Gio Reina’s parents will haunt American football

Gregg Berhalter didn’t do anything wrong.

At least not recently.

And the parents of national football team winger Gio Reina? Well, they’re selfish assholes who know better.

These are, in fact, the results of a 10-week investigation by an Atlanta law firm hired by US Soccer. The firm explored the origins of a sad, sordid and embarrassing soap opera featuring Berhalter, a former—and possibly future—US national team coach, and the parents of one of his star players.

Now the federation, which published this report on Mondaysays it’s time to move on. However, the damage caused by unnecessary drama can take months, if not years, to repair.

Recall, Berhalter, coach of the national team since 2018, said: Gio Reina ahead of the World Cup last fall that he would play a limited role in the tournament. The player took the news poorly and pouted, causing teammates and coaches to step in and change his attitude; Reyna eventually apologized, but the water didn’t stay under the bridge.

A few days after the World Cup, Berhalter spoke at a leadership conference in New York where he shared an anecdote about an unnamed player whose behavior in Qatar was so disruptive that the coaching staff discussed sending him home. Media reports later identified Reina as the player, playing only 52 minutes in the tournament.

That’s when things really went awry.

In response, Gio’s parents, Claudio and Daniel Reina, both former national team players, wrote to Ernie Stewart, then the technical director of US Soccer, complaining about Berhalter. According to an Alston & Bird report, Stewart later had an hour-long telephone conversation during which Danielle Reina told Stewart about a 31-year physical fight between Berhalter and Rosalind Santana, her college roommate and the woman who would later become Berhalter’s wife.

The incident was never reported to the police and the Reins had no intention of making it public, but according to the report, “they were thinking about starting to spread the story to others privately.”

Like sounds like blackmail, Hm? But it also follows a pattern. According to Alston & Bird’s investigation, the person whose name was removed from the report recalled Daniel Reina speaking about Berhalter at an event during the World Cup, saying: “After this tournament is over, I can make one phone call and do one interview. , and his cool sneakers and passes will be gone.”

Former USA men's team coach Gregg Berhalter gesticulates during a game.

Former USA men’s team coach Gregg Berhalter.

(Andre Penner/Associated Press)

The message, an unidentified witness told investigators, was that Berhalter’s “tough guy” image could end quickly and Daniel Reina could “take him down”.

It is important here to pause and consider the player at the center of this drama. Gio Reyna, 20, is a dynamic and talented athlete who has the potential to grow into one of the best US players of all time. But he’s also prone to injury, having played the full 90 minutes just once in 16 caps. And 11 of his 15 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Dortmund this season have been as substitutes.

He’s used to coming off the bench. He effectively leaves the bench. Thus, Berhalter’s plan to use him after coming off the bench in Qatar made sense. But even if it’s not, he’s the coach and the decision is his – Claudio Reina, a four-time World Cup competitor and former team captain, surely knows this.

However, Reina Sr. repeatedly used his status in American football to seek favorable treatment for his son. The report states that beginning in 2016 and throughout the 2022 World Cup, Reina protested to US Soccer officials about his son’s playing time, fines and suspensions his son received, and selection decisions for US Soccer’s football camps. trying to change those results. Particularly troubling were the complaints from the man who replaced Stewart as captain during the 2002 World Cup and wore the US team armband for the next seven World Cup matches.

Berhalter, by the way, played alongside Reina in two of these games.

If there’s anything good out of this drama, it’s that US Soccer has promised to rewrite its policy to include language that defines parental inappropriate behavior and communication with the national team. However, in the short term, this will not be able to erase the enormous damage that Reinas’ personal vendetta has done – both to themselves and to the national program they once stood for.

Claudio Reina, 49, was once considered one of MLS’s best sports directors. resigned with the Austin in January and is listed on the club’s website as a technical advisor. Meanwhile, for the young and talented USMNT, the momentum built up over the past four years has been halted, if not reversed. Although Berhalter publicly acknowledged and apologized for the 1991 altercation with the woman who is now his wife, and the US Soccer investigation cleared the coach of the incident, his contract expired three weeks after Reinas’ first phone call with Stewart and disputes that The conversation spawned the federation’s necessarily drawn-out decision on a new manager.

Stewart’s subsequent decision to leave US Soccer and return to his native Netherlands last month further delayed that decision because his replacement as technical director must be hired before a new manager can be chosen. This leaves the national team without a rudder in the World Cup cycle, which will end with the US-hosted tournament.

More importantly, this vilification unfairly tarnished the reputation of Berhalter, a good and decent man, who, by the way, has the best winning percentage of any USMNT coach who has worked more than two games. Virtually every player on the World Cup team spoke positively of the 49-year-old Berhalter, who is expected to be a candidate for a comeback as coach when the selection process begins.

That may not happen until summer, however, when the US plays under interim coach Anthony Hudson in the Nations League this spring and the Gold Cup this summer.

Hudson is among those ready to move on. Later this week, he will announce his squad for this month’s Nations League games with Grenada and El Salvador, and why he didn’t say Gio Reina would be on that team, he didn’t say he wouldn’t.

“He’s a talented, important player, a young player,” Hudson said after a recent meeting with Reina in Germany. “It happened. We, as staff, made the decision to act, and there was a response from the player – a positive response. Also, I don’t see Gio’s involvement in anything.

“I’m not condoning anything that happened. … The rest of the things are separate from the child, from the player.”

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