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Allegations against U.S. soccer coach were made by player Gio Reyna's parents

U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter during a training session at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Paul Ellis
/
AFP via Getty Images
U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter during a training session at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The information about a decades-old incident involving Gregg Berhalter, the head coach of the US men's national team during last year's World Cup, was shared with the U.S. Soccer Federation by Danielle Reyna, the mother of U.S. player Gio Reyna.

The allegation about the 1991 incident between Berhalter and his now-wife, Rosalind, had been made public Tuesday when Berhalter acknowledged the incident. In a statement, U.S. Soccer then said it had received a tip about the incident on Dec. 11.

On Wednesday, ESPN reported that Danielle Reyna and her husband, Claudio, a former U.S. men's national soccer captain and current sporting director of the MLS club Austin F.C., were the source of the information.

Danielle Reyna later confirmed in statements to the press that she had shared the information with U.S. Soccer, explaining that she had been "absolutely outraged and devastated" over comments made by Berhalter about her son Gio, who saw limited playing time in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Additionally, ESPN cited multiple sources who said Claudio Reyna had threatened to "share allegations about Berhalter's past" in messages to U.S. Soccer officials.

In a separate statement, Claudio Reyna acknowledged sending messages to U.S. soccer officials about his son's limited playing time during the World Cup. But he denied making threats. "At no time did I ever threaten anyone, nor would I ever do so," he said.

The U.S. Soccer Federation hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the Berhalter incident when it learned of the allegation in December.

As that investigation unfolded, U.S. soccer officials learned of "potentially inappropriate communication and behavior from third parties towards U.S. staff," a federation official said Wednesday. That is now part of the investigation.

The developments have roiled the world of U.S. soccer, in part because those involved have long personal histories together.

"Obviously, this is not a positive time for soccer in this country and for our men's national team. And it's a tough time for the families involved," said Cindy Parlow Cone, the federation's president. "I'm just hopeful that we can find resolution to this quickly and move forward with our men's team."

The 1991 incident involving Berhalter

Berhalter met his wife while they were both students and soccer players at the University of North Carolina. Danielle Reyna also played soccer there, and she and Rosalind were roommates.

The allegations shared by Reyna center around an incident in 1991 in which Berhalter kicked his future wife during a "heated argument," as he described in the Tuesday statement, which was signed by both Gregg and Rosalind.

"One night, when out drinking at a local bar, Rosalind and I had a heated argument that continued outside. It became physical and I kicked her in the legs," he said. "While the authorities were never involved in this matter, I voluntarily sought out counseling to help learn, grow and improve — one of the most valuable decisions that I ever made. To this day, that type of behavior has never been repeated."

The two temporarily parted ways but ultimately reunited, he said. They have since been married for 25 years.

"There are zero excuses for my actions that night; it was a shameful moment and one that I regret to this day," he said.

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Soccer said it "condemns violence of any kind and takes such allegations very seriously."

In the years after the incident, the two couples had grown close. Berhalter and Reyna played together on the U.S. men's national team. And Reyna served as best man at the Berhalters' wedding, according to a biography on the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association website.

The U.S. men's national team pictured in 2002, when Gregg Berhalter (3) and Claudio Reyna (10) played together.
Pascal Guyot / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. men's national team pictured in 2002, when Gregg Berhalter (3) and Claudio Reyna (10) played together.

The controversy over Gio's playing time and the World Cup

The trouble between the Reynas and Berhalter appeared to center on the couple's 20-year-old son Gio, himself a professional soccer player and a member of the U.S. men's national team.

Expectations for the younger Reyna were high ahead of the World Cup. But during the tournament, he played just 52 minutes as a substitute and was held out of two games entirely, sparking some controversy over his lack of playing time.

On Dec. 11, after the U.S. had been eliminated, The Athletic published a report that Reyna had struggled with a "lack of effort" at the World Cup and had nearly been sent home. After apologizing to his teammates, "the issues with Reyna ended there," sources told The Athletic.

The same day, remarks by Berhalter at leadership conference emerged in which Berhalter described difficulties with an unnamed player who "was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field." He and team leaders encouraged the player to apologize, he said, and afterward, "there were no issues with this player." Although Berhalter did not name him directly, the comments were widely perceived as being about Reyna.

Berhalter had believed those remarks would be off the record, U.S. Soccer later said. Instead, they were published on a leadership website, inflaming the drama.

On Dec. 12, Gio Reyna publicly apologized. "I fully acknowledge that I let my emotions get the best of me and affect my training and behavior for a few days after learning about my limited role," Reyna wrote on his Instagram. "I apologized to my teammates and coach for this, and I was told I was forgiven."

What the Reynas say about the incidents

In her statement to the press Wednesday, Danielle Reyna said she had shared the information about the 1991 incident with U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart on Dec. 11 "just after the news broke" of Berhalter's comments at the conference.

She felt "very personally betrayed by the actions of someone my family had considered a friend for decades," she said. "I thought it was especially unfair that Gio, who had apologized for acting immaturely about his playing time, was still being dragged through the mud when Gregg had asked for and received forgiveness for doing something so much worse at the same age," she explained.

Reyna also said Berhalter's recounting of the 1991 incident "significantly minimize[s] the abuse" that night, although she did not provide specifics.

"At the time I called Earnie, many people were trashing Gio on social media due to Gregg's comments, and I didn't know when or if this would stop. I just wanted Earnie to help make sure that there would be no further unwarranted attacks on my son," she said.

She said she did not ask that Berhalter be fired and denied making threats. "I don't know anything about any blackmail attempts," she said.

In his statement, Claudio Reyna said he supported his wife's account, adding that he "too was upset" by the comments about their son.

Gio Reyna has not commented publicly.

What's next for U.S. Soccer?

U.S. Soccer says it is currently investigating the allegations against Berhalter, whose contract as the head coach of the men's national team expired on Dec. 31.

On Wednesday, team officials announced they had appointed an interim head coach while the investigation continued. Anthony Hudson, 41, previously served as an assistant coach for the men's team. He will lead the squad for a pair of international friendlies scheduled for this month.

"In the past, the customary review of the past four years of the entire program following a World Cup would begin in the summer, well ahead of any year-end contract expiration," the federation said in a statement.

But the timing of the tournament so late in the year had left them little time "to conduct a proper assessment" before his contract expired, they explained.

Until both the investigation and review are complete, Berhalter is still under consideration to be rehired for the job, officials said Wednesday. "We have agreed we need to let the investigation play out before we can make any determinations there," said JT Batson, the organization's CEO and secretary general.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.