Giovanni Reyna was nearly sent home from the United States’ 2022 World Cup campaign due to a lack of effort in training and pre-tournament friendlies, according to multiple reports.
Reyna didn’t start any of the USMNT’s four matches in Qatar, playing just seven minutes against England in the group stages before coming off the bench for the entire second half of the 3-1 round-of-16 defeat to the Netherlands.
The 20-year-old’s lack of involvement prompted anger and confusion among supporters given his talent and potential to influence the outcome of the USMNT’s campaign.
Following the 1-1 draw to Wales in the opening match, head coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters that they’d done a ‘last-minute check’ on Reyna’s fitness and that he was carrying some ‘tightness. Speaking in the mixed zone minutes later, the player himself insisted he was ‘ready to go’ and that it was Berhalter’s decision not to play him.
USMNT legend Eric Wynalda later suggested Berhalter had lied to the media about Reyna’s fitness and that he’d confirmed the claim via Gio’s father, Claudio.
On Sunday, The Athletic reported that Reyna had been showing an ‘alarming lack of effort’ in training ahead of the Wales game, causing frustration among his teammates. According to the same report, the lack of effort was such that it became unclear whether the midfielder was protecting himself from injury or purely frustrated that he wasn’t starting against Wales.
Reyna’s behavior continued after the Group B opener, even after multiple senior players had taken him to the side in an attempt to get him back on track. Eventually, Reyna stood in front of his teammates before a video session to apologize. His conduct improved drastically from there and, as far as those within the camp were concerned, a corner was turned.
The Athletic’s revelations come after Berhalter referenced a complication with an unnamed player at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday. His comments were later published in a Charter newsletter:
“Every day you come into the locker room and you’re checking the scales to see where guys are at, to see what issues can arise. You always have to be ready to hit issues head-on, using your values as a filter.
“An example I can give you: 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. 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.
“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it, because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”
It later emerged that Berhalter’s comments at the summit were meant to be strictly off the record.
Later on Sunday, Berhalter issued the following statement to ESPN via text:
“It’s not really important who it was. The important thing is that the group had very clear standards and they were prepared to communicate if the standards weren’t being met. Sometimes that communication leads to positive change and a clear pathway forward.”
FS1 broadcaster Jason McIntyre later suggested that the players had taken a vote on whether or not Reyna should continue to be part of the World Cup campaign, with a 13-12 majority wishing for him to stay.
Former US international and ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman has since refuted that claim, but revealed there was a vote among Berhalter’s staff regarding Reyna’s continued World Cup participation.
Reyna’s agent, Dan Segal, provided a statement to The Athletic shortly before their story was published commenting on the ‘disrespect’ of having private team affairs leaked to the public.
“Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup,” said Segal. “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.”
Since returning to club duty, Reyna scored a stunning long-range effort in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 friendly win over Rapid Bucuresti on Saturday.