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Gregg Berhalter key to Gio Reyna’s European future with USMNT relationship repaired ahead of Copa America | Sporting News Canada



What once seemed to be an issue specific to Gregg Berhalter and his staff with the United States men’s national team – the alleged lack of appreciation for the voluminous talents of young Gio Reyna – has become a global phenomenon.

We know why he didn’t play much for the USMNT at the 2022 World Cup, and it was not because he lacked sufficient skill as a player. According to Berhalter, Reyna earned that time on the bench with his behavior upon being informed he would be deployed for early games in a substitute’s role. That explanation did not satisfy the player’s many fans, and certainly not particular members of his family, but at least it was something concrete.

His near-constant absence from competition with two different clubs in two different European leagues for the entirety of the 2023-24 season is more mysterious. It did not matter if he was on the roster at Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga from August through January or Nottingham Forest in England’s Premier League, Reyna rarely was on the field.

So with the U.S. preparing for a couple of high-profile friendlies against Colombia and Brazil before one of the top international tournaments in the world, the Copa America, Berhalter and the USMNT find themselves in the unlikely position of serving as the vehicle for Reyna to reignite his club career.

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“I don’t think there’s any added pressure for Gio,” Berhalter told reporters Monday following the release of a 27-player roster for games against Colombia (June 8) and Brazil (June 12). “What he has to do is continue doing what he’s been doing with our team. He’s performed extremely well over these last nine months and showed he can be an important part of this team.”

The disappointing breakdown of Reyna’s playing time during the 2023/24 season between his club and his country makes for rough reading. Between Dortmund and Forest, he was on the field for 515 minutes of a possible 5,880 across all competitions, meaning he was stuck to the bench 91.2 percent of his club’s match schedule. With the USMNT, in some high-profiled autumn friendlies and the CONCACAF Nations League tournament in which he won the Golden Ball, Reyna played 42 percent of the minutes.

A lot of that time with the national team served merely to help the 21-year-old recover from injury or to keep him fresh for the biggest moments, most notably the Nations League final against Mexico where he scored the clinching goal in a 2-0 triumph that secured the tournament title.

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“If you look at the impact in the Nations League, it was really good, and we’re expecting something similar in this summer,” Berhalter said. “Our job as coaches is to put him in the best possible position to perform at a high level.”

That will be essential for Reyna, who has a new agent and figures to be looking for a new club home prior to the start of the 2024-25 season. Dortmund, which will face Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final, has lost interest after signing him as a teen and using him in 2020-21 as a fulltime starter at 17 and game-changing reserve (when healthy) for the next two years.

Playing great in a tournament that will feature the likes of Lionel Messi, Alexis Mac Allister and Federico Valverde could help make Reyna a coveted target in the transfer market. He is valued at $21.7 million by the website — down from a peak of $45.6 million just prior to the 2022 World Cup.

MORE: Full 27-man USMNT roster for pre-tournament friendlies before 2024 Copa America on home soil

In Qatar, having worked through much of the qualifying process without an injured Reyna, Berhalter judged him to be best suited to a reserve forward, ostensibly to enter when the USMNT needed a late spark or goal. The team at that stage was settled on a more defensive-orieted midfield trio of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams that helped the team to rank among the top third at the World Cup in controlling possession. The Americans wound up allowing only a single goal in group play, the first time they achieved this in the modern era.

But when Jordan Morris entered the first World Cup game in November 2022, playing as a forward against Wales as the USMNT attempted to break a 1-1 tie, there were immediate questions about what happened to Reyna’s spot in the rotation. Reyna played 8 minutes in a 0-0 group game against England and all 45 second-half minutes in the elimination loss to the Netherlands.

Not long after, Berhalter appeared at a leadership conference that apparently was supposed to be an off-the-record discussion and revealed, “”In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” Berhalter said. “One of 26 players, so it stood out. As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that’s how extreme it was. And what it came down to was, we’re going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we’re going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.”

Almost immediately, The Athletic reported that player was Reyna.

Soon after, in January 2023, Reyna’s mother reported to US Soccer that Berhalter had been involved in a domestic dispute over two decades prior with the woman who would become his wife, and the organization launched an investigation. It took two months, and the report determined he was eligible to return as head coach. Popular with his core players and highly successful in regional competition, he was rehired in June 2023.

When this mess was resolved, Reyna returned to the USMNT. With Adams injured for much of 2023, though, Berhalter got a look at what Reyna could bring as an attacking midfielder and obviously was pleased. He told The Sporting News that if all his key midfield options are healthy – particularly Adams, who lately has been bothered by back spasms – that does not mean Reyna again is squeezed out of the lineup.

“I think you just need to reference the Nations League final, where they both started,” Berhalter said. “I think something like that works.

“All we want is competition for spots. The more we can get that, the better off we’ll be.”

Based on his recent USMNT work, Reyna almost certainly will find a position in the USMNT lineup. That alone is quite the comeback story — it’s like they’re besties again.

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