No one can deny Gio Reyna’s talent, but the USMNT prodigy has been hijacked by a select group of fans who have rooted for his success specifically to prove the incompetence of US Soccer and Gregg Berhalter.
Before a select few
Without question, he is one of the three most talented players of this current generation of United States men’s national team players. Still, talent isn’t always enough to break through into stardom. Sometimes, you need a little bit of luck, something Reyna has not had in the last two years.
Be it injuries or personal issues, the career of one of the country’s most talented players has stalled. Reduced to only 280 minutes in the Bundesliga this season with no goals or assists, the 21-year-old has fallen down the pecking order of a talented and well-coached Borussia Dortmund side which features Donyell Malen, Marcel Sabitzer, Julian Brandt, and now Jadon Sancho.
The writing seems to be on the wall for Reyna, who last season proved his worth to manager Edin Terzić, finishing the year with five goals and two assists, mostly as a substitute. But it was not enough for Dortmund to win the championship.
Again, his non-inclusion was grade-A material for a select few who have dubbed Terzić all kinds of names, from “soccer terrorist” to good old-fashioned “moron.” Reyna’s last start in the 2023 season was in February, then he was an unused sub in three matches before coming off the bench as a spark for the rest of the season.
Terzić had made it clear he was aware of Reyna’s injury history, and had been trying to bring him back slowly. However, Reyna would fall victim to yet another injury in the USMNT’s CONCACAF Nations League victory over Mexico in June, which caused him to miss the first six matches of the 2023-24 season with Dortmund.
When Reyna made his return, he still struggled to find minutes, which is when a group of USMNT fans took to social media to air their frustrations with Terzić in a similar fashion to how they did with USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter.
Rather than pick out headlines, posting my translation of the complete Kicker piece on #USMNT’s Gio Reyna hot off the press by Matthias Dersch, Kicker’s BVB specialist.
Important context here from a BVB angle. #BVB #Reyna pic.twitter.com/DOef9cM4at
— Derek Rae (@RaeComm) January 18, 2024
Derek Rae, who extensively covers the Bundesliga as both a journalist and on-air talent, posted an English translation of an article by Kicker editor Matthias Dersch earlier this month, which described Dortmund’s sentiments regarding Reyna. Initially meant to be the successor to club staple Marco Reus in the midfield, Reyna’s inconsistency and frequent injuries delayed his coronation, and even when he was in form, he had trouble finding a rhythm.
The fact that Reus has continued to produce at a high level along with the ascendence of Brandt haven’t helped Reyna’s case either.
The reality has been plain and simple — Dortmund is a talented side, and Reyna has not been consistent enough to earn a starting position, or even regular minutes. To say that Terzić is incompetent would be foolish, seeing how the club nearly won the league last season, is currently in fourth place, and is alive and well in the Champions League.
It might dishearten USMNT die-hards who have been claiming otherwise, but Reyna’s lack of playing time is a reflection of himself, not his managers.
Gio Reyna: The Anti-US Soccer Establishment Figure
It all started in the 2022 World Cup, when Reyna came into the tournament as one of the USMNT’s top stars. However, before the game against Wales, Berhalter had communicated to the player he would play a limited role in that match. According to CBS Sports and many other outlets, this led to a dramatic turn of events that would eventually become a lose-lose situation for everyone in U.S. Soccer.
Reyna’s attitude in training was poor, and according to various sources it all came to a head when he was called out for it. CBS Sports would report that Reyna’s lack of motivation and poor training led to a team vote, in which players narrowly decided to keep him on the team if he apologized for his behavior and got back on track rather than sending him home.
Reyna was reportedly two votes away from being disgraced and joining an infamous group of players who for various reasons were sent home by their teams at the FIFA World Cup since 1994. The list includes Stefan Effenberg (1994, for gesturing at German fans), Roy Keane (2002, for constantly bashing the Irish federation), Luis Suarez (2014, for biting), and Diego Maradona (1994, for failing a doping test).
In the end, Reyna played 52 mostly lifeless minutes for the USMNT in Qatar — seven against England, and 45 against the Netherlands in the round of 16.
With pundits and the fanbase divided on whether Berhalter handled the situation properly, all hell would break loose at the beginning of 2023. The manager inexplicably spilt the beans on what happened at the World Cup in a “private conference,” only for the Reynas, Gio’s father Claudio and mother Danielle, to threaten exposing damning information about Berhalter and his wife regarding a domestic violence incident that occurred before the couple was married while they were in college.
Worse yet, an internal investigation by the federation would point out that Claudio Reyna had sent messages of all kinds to U.S. Soccer officials on the treatment of his son and how his son was used during games dating back to his youth national team days, as well as damning statements about female referees.
As the pressure from fans and pundits mounted at the complete mess that U.S. Soccer was, Reyna was the symbol of the American soccer player playing for a major European club kept down by an incompetent federation that did not know how to coach or properly use such a talented and gifted player.
When it was all said and done, Berhalter, to the dismay of many, returned as the national team coach, but many behind the scenes of the debacle that was ReynaGate quietly left. Sporting director Earnie Stewart would move on to a position at PSV, and general manager Brian McBride stepped down. Nobody was fired, but nobody cried when both Stewart and McBride left.
Even Christian Pulisic, who at the time was struggling to find consistent minutes with Chelsea and publicly backed the return of Berhalter, was slammed on social media by a group of fans. For a brief period it was a Pulisic vs. Reyna debate, with those who were not in favor of Berhalter’s return claiming Reyna would outdo Pulisic at the club level because of his age.
With social media talk that Berhalter had the full support of just the “MLS guys” and that the European group wanted a new manager, those claims would die when Pulisic, Tim Ream, Tyler Adams, and Timothy Weah all came forward and backed the manager to return.
Since then, disgruntled USMNT fans began praying for Reyna’s success, not just for the sake of his development as a player, but to prove the incompetency of Berhalter and vindicate their opinions on the oft-maligned coach.
The Smoke is Settling
At the time of this writing, Reyna continues at Borussia Dortmund, although transfer rumors continue to swirl. Along the way, his father Claudio visited the club to talk about his son’s contract and role at the team. Gio Reyna left his former agent with the Wasserman group and joined super agent Jorge Mendes amid talks that he is not satisfied with his playing time.
Transfer talks have increased tenfold in the winter, with moves to Sevilla and Nottingham Forest being the new posited destinations. Both clubs are near the bottom of their respective leagues, and it would be a loan move, hardly the talks of transfers to Real Madrid or AC Milan, where Reyna was being scouted two years ago.
On the surface and according to Dortmund staff, Reyna is “a good kid,” and is training well. While in America it would seem that Reyna’s benching is a huge controversy in Germany, as outlined in Dersch’s article in the Kicker, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
With 121 appearances, 17 goals, and 14 assists across all competitions with Dortmund, no one can deny that Reyna can contribute and can play at the highest level. He has proven that. Why Borussia Dortmund never fully gave him the keys to drive and skyrocket his career will most likely be answered after he has left the club.
The moves to Sevilla or Nottingham Forest are simply band-aids for a player who at the 2024 Copa America with a major showing could increase his value and land at a better club, but the need to play at any cost seems to be the driving force behind the seemingly certain transfer.
Barring the unexpected, Reyna will be on the Copa America roster for the USMNT, a team that under Berhalter’s second stint has been lifeless in six out of its seven games since the coach has returned.
Reports indicated that Berhalter and Reyna have spoken and have worked out all the issues that were exposed in the 2022 World Cup, and that everything is a clean slate.
If there is one American soccer player who can use a clean slate it’s Reyna, both for club and for country. The Copa America could finally wipe away the sick feeling left behind by the 2022 World Cup, and a move to a team that could give him consistent high-level minutes could finally reignite a club career that seemed destined for the big lights and top competitions.
We all hope for the success of Reyna, one of the most talented American players of his era, but it’s past the time to use him as the central figure or example of his club’s, federation’s, and managers’ ills.
It’s time to let Gio be Gio and hope for the best.