US Soccer: Berhalter eligible to coach after investigation
NEW YORK (AP) — Gregg Berhalter remains a candidate to stay on as the U.S. men’s national team coach after a report by a law firm determined he did not improperly withhold information about a 1992 domestic violence allegation involving the woman who later became his wife.
The report, released publicly Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, also concluded that Berhalter's conduct “likely constituted the misdemeanor crime of assault on a female.”
Berhalter’s contract as coach expired on Dec. 31 and Anthony Hudson, one of his assistants, was appointed interim coach on Jan. 4. The coaching decision will be made after a new sporting director is hired.
The firm Alston and Bird was retained after former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna and wife Danielle Egan Reyna, the parents of current American midfielder Gio Reyna, informed the USSF of the 1992 incident following the decision by Berhalter to use Gio Reyna sparingly at last year’s World Cup.
The firm concluded the Reynas were not guilty of extortion but said Claudio Reyna’s conduct might have violated provisions of FIFA's code of ethics for conflicts of interest, protection of physical and mental integrity, and abuse of position.
Claudio Reyna resigned as technical director of Major League Soccer’s Austin team on Jan. 26.
The probe included interviews with 16 witnesses, but Claudio Reyna refused to be interviewed. It included details on the incident between Berhalter and the then-Rosalind Santana in January 1992 at a bar and nightclub in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Berhalter and Santana were students and Santana was a roommate of Danielle Egan, who went on to play for the U.S. women's national team.
“Mr. and Mrs. Berhalter were both 18 years old and drinking alcohol on the night in question; they began to argue inside the bar; they left the bar together and continued to argue,” the report said. “Once outside, Mrs. Berhalter hit Mr. Berhalter in the face; Mr. Berhalter pushed her to the ground and kicked her twice; Mr. Berhalter was tackled by a passerby, not known to either of the Berhalters; and Mrs. Berhalter got up and left. No police report was filed; no complaint or arrest was made; and no medical attention was sought by Mrs. Berhalter.”
The report described the incident as “an isolated event, and we find no evidence to suggest that Mr. Berhalter has engaged in similar misconduct at any other time.”
“Based upon information obtained during the Investigation, we also found nothing to indicate that Mr. Berhalter improperly withheld the fact of the 1992 incident, or any other information, from U.S. Soccer at any time,” the report said. “There is no basis to conclude that employing Mr. Berhalter would create legal risks for an organization.”
The investigators said “Berhalter’s conduct during the 1992 incident likely constituted the misdemeanor crime of assault on a female” but added “Berhalter is not currently at risk of criminal prosecution for the 1992 incident because North Carolina imposes a two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors."
Claudo Reyna is a former teammate of Berhalter in high school and on the national team. The report said the Reyna parents had attempted to influence USSF decisions on their children as far back as 2016, “ranging from travel arrangements to the impact of on-pitch refereeing decisions.”
Brian McBride, the men's team general manager until leaving Jan. 31, gave the investigators a text he received from Claudio Reyna — a former teammate — on Nov. 21 after Gio Reyna wasn’t used in the Americans’ opening 1-1 draw with Wales at the World Cup.
“Our entire family is disgusted, angry, and done with you guys,” the text said. “Don’t expect nice comments from anyone in our family about US Soccer. I’m being transparent to you not like the political clown show of the federation.”
Earnie Stewart, who was the USSF sporting director until Feb. 15, told the investigators that after a poor performance by Gio Reyna in a pre-World Cup scrimmage on Nov. 17, the 20-year-old “walk(ed) around, and mope(d) around the whole time,” “seemed ticked off” and “did not appear to be trying at all.” Reyna also did not join other players on post-scrimmage sprints.
Berhalter nearly sent Gio Reyna home, instead requiring him to apologize to teammates. Reyna made two substitute appearances during the World Cup, for seven minutes against England and 45 minutes against Iran.
Berhalter referred to the matter without naming the player at a leadership conference in New York on Dec. 6. After the remarks became public and it was clear they referred to Gio Reyna, Claudio and Danielle Reyna called Stewart on Dec. 11 and revealed the 1992 incident. Stewart reported the matter to top USSF executives, who launched the probe.
A person whose name was redacted in the public version of the report, who appeared to be identified as a travel coordinator for the federation's friends and family program, quoted Danielle Reyna as saying the day after the Wales match: “Once this tournament is over, I can make one phone call and give one interview, and his cool sneakers and bounce passes will be gone.”
“Some media reports characterized the Reynas’ actions as ‘blackmail,’” the report said. “As a legal matter, we do not arrive at the same conclusion."
“Blackmail or extortion is the act of obtaining property by compelling or inducing a person to deliver such property by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will cause some form of harm to the person,” the report said. "Based on the facts gathered to date, we do not conclude that the Reynas’ actions rise to the level of or would otherwise result in a conviction for extortion.”
The report said Danielle Reyna initially refused to discuss the matter with investigators during a telephone call on Dec. 29, but she called back shortly later and began by saying: “I did it” and detailed what she told Stewart 18 days earlier.
Investigators concluded Claudio Reyna "used his direct line of communication with U.S. Soccer officials in an attempt to gain advantages or preferential treatment for his children" and he complained “about his son’s playing time, penalties and suspensions his son received, and selection decisions for U.S. Soccer camps in an attempt to change those outcomes.”
The USSF said the report “identifies a need to revisit U.S. Soccer’s policies concerning appropriate parental conduct and communications with staff at the national team level. We will be updating those policies.”
Claudio Reyna did not immediately respond to a text seeking comment. Berhalter's new spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik, did not immediately have a comment.
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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press