United States midfielder Giovanni Reyna was almost sent home from the World Cup in Qatar due to a lack of effort in training and in a pre-tournament scrimmage against Qatari side Al Gharafa SC, sources told ESPN on Sunday.
Reyna, 20, did not start a single game for the US in Qatar but did play the entire second half of their final match — a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the round of 16. The sources added that Reyna apologized to the entire team for his lack of effort.
The disclosure came after US manager Gregg Berhalter spoke at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York on Tuesday. His comments were later published in a newsletter by Charterworks, in which he said the US “had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field. 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.”
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Berhalter went on to say: “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. But the other thing we said to him was, you’re going to have to apologize to the group, but it’s going to have to say why you’re apologizing. It’s going to have to go deeper than just ‘Guys, I’m sorry.’ And I prepped the leadership group with this. I said, ‘OK, this guy’s going to apologize to you as a group, to the whole team.'”
MLSSoccer.com was first to identify that the player was Reyna, with The Athletic reporting that Reyna was nearly sent home, and his performance in training was why his playing time was affected.
Reached via text message, Berhalter issued the following statement to ESPN: “It’s not really important who it was. The important thing is that the group had very clear standards and they were prepared to communicate if the standards weren’t being met. Sometimes that communication leads to positive change and a clear pathway forward.”
Berhalter later added that the presentation was supposed to be off the record.
Reyna’s playing time — or the lack of it — was the subject of intense scrutiny throughout the tournament. He failed to get on the field against Wales, with Jordan Morris the last substitute to be used by Berhalter in the 1-1 draw. Afterward, Berhalter said that he felt Morris’ “speed and power” could give the team something, and later referenced “a little bit of tightness” that Reyna experienced after the Al Gharafa scrimmage the previous Thursday.
Reyna had struggled on and off with injuries over the previous 14 months, including one to his hamstring, but he told the assembled media after the Wales game that he was “100 percent.”
“I feel really good. I feel great,” Reyna said. “I feel fine. [Berhalter] doesn’t have to tell me why he didn’t put me in or why he does.”
It was soon after that Reyna was confronted by coaches and teammates and eventually apologized.
“What was fantastic in this whole thing is that after he apologized, they stood up one by one and said, ‘Listen, it hasn’t been good enough, you haven’t been meeting our expectations of a teammate and we want to see change,'” Berhalter said during his speech. “They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.”
The temperature around Reyna’s playing time increased prior to the England game when former US international Eric Wynalda said in a Twitter Spaces exchange with the Los Angeles Times that there was “internal strife.” He later said on his Sirius XM radio show that Berhalter had lied to the media and had asked Reyna to lie as well.
Wynalda later walked back some of his comments.
Reyna played seven minutes in the 0-0 draw against England and was an unused substitute in the 1-0 win over Iran.