Claudio Reyna when he played with the Red Bulls (Andy Mead/YCJ)
By Michael Lewis
When I joined Soccer Week way back in 1987, I came on as youth editor and jumped into the sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly world of youth soccer.
It was beautiful seeing how many youngsters enjoyed playing the game.
It was pretty ugly seeing how some parents reacted to their children at games and even off the field. Sometimes after I featured a young standout player in the publication, a parent of another player would complain how come their son or daughter wasn’t featured, that their child was better and that their kid should have had their story told.
Trying to be diplomatic I told them there was limited amount of space and time to profile every player.
I just shook my head in amazement.
Attending youth games and tournaments, I saw plenty of “soccer abuse,” from ignorant parents yelling at their children to do some needless running to coaches shouting at his young players to exasperated coaches trying to tone down loud-mouth adults on the sidelines or face yellow or red cards or even game forfeiture.
Mind-boggling stuff in which young players shouldn’t have to endure.
I have to admit most of the parents I dealt with were pretty good, but there were some ahem, bad apples, in and around the Big Apple.
Which brings us to the present and Claudio and Danielle Reyna, who have become the USA’s best-known soccer parents.
Unless you have been hiding in a cave the last few days, you are probably already familiar with this embarrassing scenario.
If not, I will put it into a nutshell.
During the recent World Cup, U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter told 20-year-old Gio Reyna that he wasn’t going to see much action.
And he didn’t play that much.
At a leadership conference in New York City after he returned home from Qatar, Berhalter talked about a player whom he was almost sent home from the World Cup. He never mentioned anyone’s name. That symposium was supposed to be off the record, but the organization mistakenly issued a transcript online of Berhalter’s talk for the entire world to see.
The media deduced that the player in question was Gio Reyna.
What Berhalter said got back to Gio’s father, Claudio, a former USMNT captain and teammate of his, and to Danielle, a friend and former teammate of Rosalind Berhalter, the coach’s wife. Both women were soccer standouts at the University of North Carolina.
The Reynas, in turn, complained to U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart. Worse, they relayed an incident from 31 years ago in which Gregg kicked his future wife, Rosalind. That ugly episode was reconciled years ago, since the Berhalters married, had four children and recently celebrated their 25th anniversary.
Stewart had to report this to his bosses and U.S. Soccer was forced to start an investigation into the matter.
Let’s make this clear. That was Rosalind Berhalter’s story to share, if she wanted to, not anyone else’s. What the Reynas did was to display the dirtiest laundry possible for the entire world to see.
No doubt that Gregg Berhalter did a stupid thing three decades ago, which he admitted. But he was much younger at the time and I can attest that we all do really stupid things when we were younger.
But what the Reynas did was the ugliest incident concerning soccer parents I can recall in all of my years covering the game.
They should have realized the potential implications of what they were doing. Shame on them for bringing themselves, the game and U.S. soccer into disrepute. The rest of the world is watching and mocking us. And after reading numerous posts on social media, I am not certain the Reynas gained many friends in the American soccer community after the stunt they pulled.
Given what transpired, I am not certain how Claudio Reyna, the FC Austin sporting director, can face the media without this ugly episode coming up again and again. The Reynas’ reputation has been tainted, perhaps forever.
This episode likely doesn’t help Gio with current or future coaches knowing that his parents are looking over their shoulders and might say something. How will this affect Gio with his Borussia Dortmund’s teammates and coaching staff over the long haul?
Then there’s the question of whether Gio’s transfer value has gone down and if the Bundesliga club team can get a decent fee for him when it comes time to let him go (as it has done with many a young player, including Christian Pulisic and Erling Haaland, to name a few).
Berhalter’s contract as coach expired on Dec. 31 and he won’t be in contention to continue as coach until the investigation is concluded, whenever that might be. On Thursday, he said that he wants to return.
Since Gio is so young, he probably will be in contention for a spot on future World Cup teams, unless he falls off or is injured.
U.S. Soccer shouldn’t bounce Berhalter on an incident that occurred more than three decades ago. That had nothing to do with his coaching ability. The organization should make a decision on his record and potential to take this team forward to greater heights.
Here is an intriguing scenario:
If Berhalter is rehired as coach, could that make for a rather awkward situation in so many ways, especially if Gio is available. How would they interact? How would the team act or react?
Would it be better for Berhalter to move on to another team for his and the team’s sake?
One thing is quite certain: This scandal isn’t going to go away overnight.
In fact, it is part of U.S. Soccer and American soccer history, whether the powers that be like it or not.
This is what U.S. Soccer is facing:
With the USA co-hosting the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and Canada, so much is at stake. As a home team, there will be greater expectations and focus on the team going beyond the Round of 16 in three years, or that World Cup would be considered a failure, at least on the field (it will be a great financial success whether the USA goes deep or not).
Three years can be a long time, but can that amount of time heal the wounds of the past two months?
No doubt that U.S. Soccer and Berhalter will be making some difficult decisions in the coming weeks or months.