Mere weeks after a World Cup performance viewed by many as a positive step forward for a promising group of players, the United States men’s soccer team has been enveloped in a soap opera story line involving its head coach, a popular former player, a current player (who happens to be the popular former player’s son) and an intricate web of friendly and familial ties.
The drama — the fruit of a decades-old incident outside a college bar — has led to an investigation by the U.S. Soccer Federation, threatened the hold of the coach, Gregg Berhalter, on his post just as he is negotiating a new contract, and potentially damaged the reputation of the player, Gio Reyna, and of his parents, after his mother first reported the bar incident to Berhalter’s bosses.
On Tuesday afternoon, Berhalter released a lengthy statement on Twitter, revealing that “an individual” (whom he did not name) had contacted the federation during the World Cup claiming to have information that might compel the team to terminate his employment.
Berhalter came forward with the story instead, writing that he had kicked his current wife, Rosalind, in the legs during an alcohol-fueled fight in 1991, when he was 18 and the two had just begun dating as college students.
“The lessons learned from that night over three decades ago became the foundation for a loving, devoted, and supportive relationship, which we honored and celebrated with our 25th wedding anniversary this past weekend,” he said in the statement.
Minutes later, U.S. Soccer sent out its own, vague statement, saying that it had hired a law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, to investigate the allegations against Berhalter (which it did not specify) after learning of them on Dec. 11, a little over a week after the team was knocked out of the World Cup in Qatar.
The plot only grew more bizarre on Wednesday afternoon, when the parents of Gio Reyna, a 20-year-old winger on the American team, admitted that they were the ones who had contacted the team’s sporting director, Earnie Stewart, on Dec. 11 with the information about the incident in Berhalter’s past.
Reyna’s father, Claudio, is a former captain of the U.S. men’s team and widely considered one of the greatest players in its history. His mother, Danielle, played six times for the U.S. women’s national team in the early 1990s.
The involvement of the Reynas, which was first reported on Wednesday by ESPN, was all the more intriguing because of the tight relationship of the families, who are known to be close friends. Berhalter and Claudio Reyna played soccer together as kids in New Jersey, playing for a club team coached by Claudio’s father and the high school team at St. Benedict’s in Newark. The two were teammates at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and Reyna even served as the best man at Berhalter’s wedding, according to his biography on the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association website.
Rosalind Berhalter and Danielle Reyna were roommates and soccer teammates at the University of North Carolina.
In a statement on Wednesday, Danielle Reyna said she was the one who initially contacted Stewart about the bar incident, characterizing her actions as an effort to protect her son. She said she contacted Stewart on Dec. 11 out of frustration after Berhalter was quoted that day speaking at a leadership conference about a problematic player on the team who was nearly sent home during the World Cup for his poor attitude. Berhalter did not name the player, but it was widely, and correctly, assumed to be Reyna, who featured far less in the competition than expected.
Reyna, one of the most promising players on the team, released a statement on Dec. 12 shortly after Berhalter’s comments were reported, admitting that he had reacted poorly to being told that he would receive limited playing time in Qatar and expressing disappointment that his coach had publicized the situation.
In a statement on Wednesday, she said that Berhalter’s descriptions of the incident “significantly minimize the abuse on the night in question,” though she did not provide more detail.
“Rosalind Berhalter was my roommate, teammate and best friend, and I supported her through the trauma that followed,” Danielle Reyna said in the statement. “It took a long time for me to forgive and accept Gregg afterward, but I worked hard to give him grace, and ultimately made both of them and their kids a huge part of my family’s life. I would have wanted and expected him to give the same grace to Gio. This is why the current situation is so very hurtful and hard.”
Claudio Reyna, in a statement, admitted that he had separately expressed frustration during the tournament regarding his son’s playing time to Stewart and General Manager Brian McBride, whom he referred to as friends.
“However, at no time did I ever threaten anyone, nor would I ever do so,” he said.
The ultimate resolution of this situation has yet to be decided, but on Wednesday U.S. Soccer announced that Berhalter would not serve as head coach during the team’s annual training camp in January. Anthony Hudson would fill that role, the team said.
Berhalter’s contract ended on Dec. 31. The team suggested that the awkward timing of the World Cup, coming in the fall instead of the summer, had not left the organization enough time to conduct a customary performance review following the tournament. That process is ongoing, the team said.
The investigation, and the complex soap opera that emerged Wednesday, has only complicated matters.