NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. men's soccer team was plunged into public turmoil Wednesday when the Reyna family said it notified the U.S. Soccer Federation of a decades-old incident involving Gregg Berhalter and his wife in response to the coach’s disparagement of young star Gio Reyna.
Berhalter said Tuesday his 1991 behavior in which he kicked the woman who would become his wife was “shameful” and that he was “looking forward to continuing my conversations with U.S. Soccer about the future."
The U.S. Soccer Federation has commissioned an investigation by an outside law firm, along with the staff review of the team’s performance over the four-year cycle. All of it leaves the program’s leadership uncertain as the run-up begins to the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host.
“Obviously this is a not a positive time for soccer in this country and for our men’s national team,” USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone said Wednesday during a news conference.
For the time being, Anthony Hudson, a member of Berhalter’s staff, will coach the men's team ahead of exhibitions against Serbia on Jan. 25 and Colombia three days later.
USSF sporting director Earnie Stewart, a former teammate of Reyna’s and Berhalter’s, has been delegated by Parlow Cone and the USSF board to make a coaching recommendation.
“Gregg Berhalter, until the investigation and the review takes place, is still under consideration for the head coach job,” Stewart said.
The controversy has become a messy public dispute involving Berhalter; former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, who was the best man at Berhalter’s wedding; Danielle Egan Reyna, a former U.S. women’s player; Rosalind Santana Berhalter, the coach’s wife and Egan’s college roommate; and Gio Reyna, the 20-year-old midfielder limited to 53 minutes by Berhalter at the 2022 World Cup.
It follows a $24 million settlement by the USSF last year of a discrimination lawsuit filed by American women players and an independent investigation that revealed systemic emotional abuse and sexual misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The USSF announced Tuesday that Berhalter was under investigation. The coach, whose contract expired last month, simultaneously issued a statement saying a person contacted the USSF “saying that they had information about me that would ’take me down.'”
Danielle Reyna said she told Stewart of the 1991 incident on Dec. 11, five days after Berhalter made remarks at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership that did not cite a player by name but clearly were criticism of Gio Reyna. Excerpts were published in a newsletter by Charter Works, which said the remarks were "erroneously greenlit for publication."
“I wanted to let him know that I was absolutely outraged and devastated that Gio had been put in such a terrible position, and that I felt very personally betrayed by the actions of someone my family had considered a friend for decades,” Danielle Reyna said in a statement Wednesday. “As part of that conversation, I told Earnie that 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.”
Berhalter and his wife Rosalind had “spoken openly” about the matter, the USSF said Tuesday, and Berhalter admitted to the kick. But Danielle Reyna criticized Berhalter's description of the 1991 events.
“The statements from yesterday significantly minimize the abuse on the night in question,” she said. “Rosalind Berhalter was my roommate, teammate and best friend, and I supported her through the trauma that followed. 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.”
The USSF hired the law firm Alston & Bird to investigate the situation. New USSF CEO JT Batson said the firm will try to determine whether Jay Berhalter, Gregg's brother who was the USSF chief commercial officer in 2018, was aware of the incident at the time of his brother was hired.
“None of our current leadership was aware of this,” Batson said of the 1991 incident. “This is something that Alston & Bird as a part of the investigation will, I'm sure, try to understand.”
The U.S. men's team was eliminated from the 2022 World Cup with a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands 3-1 in the round of 16. Berhalter was repeatedly questioned by media about the lack of playing time for Reyna.
“I too was upset by Gregg’s comments about Gio after the U.S. was out of the World Cup, and I also appealed to Earnie Stewart on Dec. 11 asking him to prevent any additional comments,” Claudio Reyna said in a separate statement.
Claudio Reyna made 112 appearances for the U.S. from 1994-2006 and captained the U.S. at two World Cups. Gio Reyna made his debut in 2020 and has 16 appearances.
Danielle Reyna maintained she never threatened to blackmail Berhalter and never asked that he be fired.
“I’m sorry that this information became public, and I regret that I played a role in something that could reopen wounds from the past,” Danielle Reyna said.
Hudson, meanwhile, will coach what is expected to be a roster mostly from Major League Soccer next month. The 41-year-old was hired as coach of the U.S. under-20 team in January 2020, and a year later became an assistant coach to Berhalter.
“Every player that has a U.S. passport will be eligible to play for our U.S. national team,” Stewart said. “I don’t any problems moving forward in any kind of regards to any player when it comes to our U.S. national team that can contribute.”
Hudson’s staff will include U.S. assistant coach B.J. Callaghan and current U.S. under-20 coach Mikey Varas. Luchi Gonzalez, the other American assistant coach, agreed last summer to become coach of MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes following the World Cup.
Hudson also has coached fifth-tier Newport in England in 2011, Bahrain's national team in 2013 and 2014, New Zealand’s national team from 2014-17 and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids from 2017-19.
The U.S. men’s team had not been involved in public turmoil of this magnitude since 1998, when the Americans lost three straight World Cup games and finished last in the tournament among public disparagement of coach Steve Sampson. Sampson said in 2010 he dropped John Harkes from the national team roster two months before the 1998 World Cup because the American captain was having an affair a teammate’s wife, which Harkes denied.
AP Sports Writers Anne M. Peterson and James Vertuno contributed to this report. ___
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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press