RAYYAN, Qatar — The World Cup figured to be a showcase for Gio Reyna, a 20-year-old attacker following in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame father, former U.S. national team captain Claudio Reyna.
So what gives?
First, the backstory: Reyna is an immensely skilled, but oft-injured, player for Borussia Dortmund. He injured a hamstring in the first of 14 World Cup qualifiers in September 2021, missed months of Bundesliga matches and didn’t return to the U.S. squad until the last three games.
Setbacks and scares continued to thwart his progress, but as the World Cup neared, Reyna was hitting his stride with Dortmund and seemingly on track for significant playing time in Qatar.
In the opener against Wales, however, Reyna not only did not start, he wasn’t among the five second-half substitutes.
Berhalter said Reyna had experienced muscle tightness in a scrimmage against a local club four days earlier, and so he decided to proceed cautiously.
Berhalter later said he had not ruled out using Reyna, but citing the “nature of the game” down the stretch, opted for forward Jordan Morris instead for “speed and power.”
Reyna acknowledged the issue but also said he “definitely felt 100 percent.”
Looking to the next match, Berhalter said he could “envision [Reyna] playing some role against England.” The role was small: Reyna entered in the 83rd minute of a 0-0 draw in which the U.S. starters held their own — and then some — against the trophy contenders.
Then Wynalda chimed in. A former teammate of both Berhalter and the elder Reyna, Wynalda claimed during a Twitter Spaces chat that Berhalter had lied about the injury and asked the player to go along with the story. He also suggested Reyna’s lack of playing time was causing team friction.
Berhalter responded: ‘That’s just not who I am. That’s not what I represent. So if you have to take my word or Eric’s word, feel free, but I know what happened.”
A day later, Wynalda apologized and said, “I wish I could take it back.”
Against Iran on Tuesday, Berhalter started Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah on the wings — Reyna’s primary position — for the third consecutive match. Brenden Aaronson was the natural first sub when Pulisic got hurt while scoring a goal and couldn’t continue after intermission. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Berhalter made substitutions prioritizing defense, which isn’t Reyna’s strength.
Berhalter has stuck with a core group: He introduced one new starter after the first game and made two changes after the second. Only four players have made multiple appearances as subs. The Americans have been solid and consistent overall, though they’ve scored only two goals.
Pulisic’s status Saturday against the Netherlands in the round of 16 is day-to-day. Aaronson is likely to remain the first alternative, which would leave Reyna waiting in the wings again.
In the knockout round, a deficit or a tie game would probably change Berhalter’s calculus. The U.S. men are no longer playing for group stage points, and Reyna could become a weapon. Yet to trail in this competition, the United States has not needed an attacking boost in the second half. Reyna could very well provide that lift.
“I think a lot of it comes down to timing and circumstance,” Berhalter said Friday in Qatar. “If you look at how the games have unfolded, we’ve had the lead and have had to hold onto the lead later in games. The only game that we didn’t have that scenario, we actually put him in to help [try] get the victory.
“So, it’s just how we can use him in the most effective way. Really talented player. And we’re looking for the right moment, but he can no doubt help this team.”
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.