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An Investigation Into U.S. Soccer Reveals Extreme Sports Parenting Gone Too Far

8 minute read

Any casual follower of the U.S. men’s national soccer team could suss out that an investigation into the ugly feud brewing between World Cup coach Gregg Berhalter and parents of player Gio Reyna was going to reveal some inappropriate conduct. Some of the angling and backstabbing, after all, by former U.S. star Claudio Reyna, one of Berhalter’s former teammates and close friends since high school, and Danielle Reyna had already spilled into the public square in early January.

Back then, Berhalter and his wife Rosalind released a joint public statement in which Gregg admitted to kicking Rosalind, his then-girlfriend, during a dispute outside a North Carolina bar in 1992, when they were both freshman in college. Berhalter said that he’d grown and moved on from the “shameful moment” more than 30 years ago but that “an individual” contacted U.S. Soccer during the World Cup to leverage information about the incident to perhaps push him out as head coach of the national team.

The next day, Danielle Reyna admitting to contacting U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, who has since resigned, about Berhalter, since she was frustrated that Berhalter had discussed, at a leadership conference in early December, how he nearly sent Gio Reyna home from the World Cup due to lack of effort.

“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,” Danielle Reyna said in a statement on January 4.

Claudio Reyna similarly admitted to sharing frustrations about his son’s World Cup experience—Gio, 20, appeared in just two of the team’s four games—with Stewart and former general manager Brian McBride. (McBride, Stewart, Berhalter, and Claudio Reyna were all teammates on the 2002 U.S. World Cup team that reached the quarterfinals, the U.S. men’s best finish in the modern era).

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So when U.S. Soccer announced it had hired a law firm, Alston & Bird, to look into the Berhalter incident as well as “potential inappropriate behavior towards multiple members of our staff by individuals outside of our organization” (a.k.a. the Reynas), it stood to reason that the investigators would discover some parental meddling.

What they turned up, however, was worse than mere meddling. The findings, released on Monday, expose how some parents will unabashedly utilize friendships and connections to promote their own children at the expense of any and all others; how intertwining family, friendships, and sports can destroy lasting relationships; and how an inside story of helicopter parenting, at the pinnacle of the sporting world, is at times quite uncomfortable to read.

Complaint Department

The more sordid material starts on page 25 of the 36-page document Alston & Bird’s attorneys produced. Claudio Reyna, it turns out, had been sticking his neck into U.S. Soccer business for years. (Reynya worked for U.S. Soccer from 2010 to 2013 as the technical director for youth soccer, and he was the sporting director for Major League Soccer’s New York City FC and then Austin FC before he resigned from Austin on January 26).

In 2016, according to the document, Reyna urged a U.S. Soccer official to overturn a red card to allow Gio to play, instead of having to sit out, the next match—as if typical rules shouldn’t apply to his son.

In July of 2018, Reyna sent an email to an official complaining about the performance of a female referee in a 2018 match involving Gio again. “And in all honest [sic] can we get real and have male refs for a game like this,” Reyna wrote. “Its embarrassing guys. What are we trying to prove?”

In 2019, during the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Stewart told investigators that Reyna complained to him about Gio’s lack of playing time and what he saw as the team’s substandard travel arrangements. “Specifically,” the investigators wrote, “not flying business class.” According to the report, “Mr. Stewart commented that in his more than 20 years ‘in this business,’ he has never had these types of discussions with other players’ parents.”

Berhalter said that during that same World Cup, Reyna sent him texts ripping into the U-17 coach, calling him “the worst coach.” The report says that Berhalter provided texts sent by Reyna in 2019 and 2020, “complaining about Gio Reyna’s treatment, travel arrangements, and coaches,” to corroborate the claims.

“When things don’t go great for Gio,” Berhalter told the investigators, the Reynas “pivot and go into attack mode.”

The Turning Point

The Reynas didn’t hide their disapproval of U.S. Soccer during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. According to the report, after Gio was benched during Team USA’s World Cup opener against Wales, a 1-1 draw, Danielle Reyna refused to board the same bus as friends and family of the Berhalters.

Netherlands v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter pats Giovanni Reyna on the back during a match against the Netherlands during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Dec. 03, 2022.Patrick Smith—FIFA/Getty Images

After that first match, Reyna began to imply, vocally, that she possessed information that could hurt Berhalter. Gregg Berhalter said that the relationship between his wife Rosalind and Danielle Reyna, who had been teammates and roommates in college, instantly changed following that Wales game. “They had talked every day for decades,” he said. “And it ended immediately.”

Claudio Reyna, according to the report, sent the following text to McBride after the Wales game: “Our entire family is disgusted, angry, and done with you guys. 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.”

McBride and Stewart met with the Reynas on November 24, the day before the U.S. played England. “Mr. McBride commented that such a meeting would not typically occur with parents of players, but they agreed to it as a courtesy to Mr. Reyna given their long friendship and history as former teammates,” the attorneys wrote. “Mr. McBride informed us, that, during the meeting, Mr. Reyna stated, ‘you guys don’t even know what we know about Gregg,’ but offered no additional details.”

Lessons Learned

The investigators interviewed both Berhalters. “We were impressed with Mr. Berhalter’s candor and demeanor,” the investigators wrote, and they noted that Rosalind Berhalter also cooperated fully. The report states that the Berhalters offered consistent accounts about the 1992 incident, and investigators found no evidence that Gregg Berhalter ever repeated his violent outburst. He sought counseling, told his family and coaches about the incident, and he and Rosalind began dating again at the start of their sophomore year.

“There is no basis to conclude that employing Mr. Berhalter would create legal risks for an organization,” the investigators conclude, which is a key point: Berhalter remains under consideration to coach the U.S. men’s team at the 2026 World Cup in North America.

“We were less impressed with the Reynas’ cooperation,” the investigators wrote. Danielle Reyna, according to the report, at first denied that she spoke to Stewart on the phone on December 11. She then called the attorneys back to admit that she had told Stewart about the North Carolina incident involving the Berhalters. Claudio Reyna was not interviewed by investigators. While the documents make clear that Claudio Reyna did not violate any laws or U.S. Soccer policies, the report suggests that he may have run afoul of FIFA’s Code of Ethics by advocating for his own son while working as a club executive.

“Claudio and Danielle acknowledge that they have said and done things in the heat of the moment that they regret,” the Reynas’ agent, Dan Segal, said in a statement tweeted by Steven Goff of the Washington Post. “Gio acknowledges that, like countless players before, he showed too much disappointment when not selected to play at the World Cup. That is only part of the story here, but the only side of the story that investigators chose to tell. It is disheartening and grossly unfair to see the family turned into one-dimensional caricatures to progress a narrative that benefits others.”

Though the investigation has concluded, U.S. Soccer still finds itself in a difficult spot. Gio Reyna, who plays for Borussia Dortmund of Germany’s Bundesliga, remains a key component of U.S. Soccer’s future. If Berhalter is rehired, can the pair possibly coexist? Or if U.S. Soccer looks elsewhere for a coach, would a perception persist that the Reynas ultimately won this feud? The federation needs to sort this all out. In the meantime, sports parents the world over can take an immediate lesson from this whole sad affair.

In the heat of the moment, never text.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com