Breaking down the Alston & Bird report - a look at all relevant parties
March 14, 2023
FOR THE TUESDAY morning update, there is really no other place to start other than the long-awaited release of the Alston & Bird report on the ugly aftermath of the Reyna-Berhalter matter that transposed during the 2022 World Cup.
Let’s just get into it.
Alston and Bird breakdown
The Alston & Bird investigation into the Gregg Berhalter and Claudio Renya saga is over and the report is now released. The big takeaway is that there were two paths this report could have taken. It could have potentially revealed all sorts of bombs, criminal behavior, and ground for potential lawsuits. If the report found any of that, it would have been the beginning of a mess that would have taken years to resolve.
Instead, the report uncovered no smoking gun, no prosecutable crimes, and no serious grounds for lawsuits. Yes, the Reyna family doesn’t look great in this report. But the important result is that this report felt more like closure.
To really do that, let’s look at the stakeholders and wrap up with U.S. Soccer.
Regarding the 1991 incident, the Berhalter family comes out of this report well. The 1991 incident of domestic violence where Gregg Berhalter was violent with his then girlfriend Rosalind was terrible. But the report finds that Gregg Berhalter sought counseling, self-reported the incident, and never engaged in violent conduct again. Upon review in the report, it was an isolated incident that every recovered, learned, and moved on. There was no coverup.
After 31 years, the report takes the legal significance out of the incident – making a private matter between Gregg and Rosalind, which it always should have remained after there was no charges made by authorities or the University of North Carolina at that time.
As for how things were handled in Qatar, Berhalter avoided the mess of sending Gio Reyna home when it was clear he was behaving poor upon arrival. But the situation seemed to be resolving within the team as the tournament went on. By the final game, Reyna played significant minutes off the bench.
After the World Cup, there was the issue of Berhalter making the comments to the leadership group which he believed was off the record – but were published. This was perhaps Berhalter’s biggest mistake in the matter as it exposed an internal issue within the team – although he did not specifically name Reyna.
Moving forward, this report – either in the 1991 incident or how he handled Gio Reyna – probably doesn’t affect his candidacy for either getting rehired as the USMNT manager or for any club job.
Claudio and Danielle Reyna
This report was very hard on Claudio Reyna and Danielle Reyna. Their behavior was inexcusable and it was a poor look by them to bring up the 1991 incident which had been successfully handled by the relevant parties.
You can imply from the report that the only reason why they brought it up was to bring about revenge on Berhalter for the lack of minutes Gio Reyna was receiving. They weren’t morally outraged by the 1991 incident anymore because if they were, they would have made it public decades ago. This also wasn’t a matter of bringing it up to show as an example that young people make mistakes. The report says the Reyna’s were hinting about making this public before Berhalter made any comment about Gio’s poor behavior.
The Reyna’s come out of this report looking mean and creating an environment where their children, particularly Gio, would act entitled. The report suggests there is a long history of this.
On the other hand, the report stops short of finding that there is a case to meet all of the elements of a crime or an ethical violation. Most importantly, the report is clear that their conduct falls short of the legal crimes of blackmail or extortion.
That is good news for the Reyna family that they’ll likely avoid a criminal investigation. Also on a potential civil lawsuit, they also benefit. It is likely true that Claudio and Danielle might have been hoping at the time to disclose the 1991 incident to hurt Berhalter’s reputation with U.S. Soccer to prevent him from getting a contract extension.
But the report does them a favor. But downplaying the legal significance of the 1991 incident, it makes it harder for Berhalter to sue the Reyna’s if he does not get the job for the next cycle. If U.S. Soccer used its knowledge of the 1991 incident to either fire Berhalter after the World Cup or remove him from being a candidate for the 2026 cycle, Berhalter could then claim damages from the Reyna’s and it would open the door for a lawsuit. Proving damages now is harder for Berhalter.
Legally, the report probably helps Claudio and Danielle Reyna. Reputationally, it’s a completely different manner. Moving forward, it is hard to see how Claudio finds another job at the higher levels of the sport anytime soon.
The talented attacking midfielder didn’t behave well when he arrived in Qatar, and maybe he has himself to blame for the lack of minutes he earned in Qatar. He had been dealing with injuries for most of the past year before Qatar. The concerns over his fitness were well founded. The way he should have responded was by working harder in practice and in training. Everyone knows, or should know from youth levels, that training hard and showing a positive attitude puts players in a good position to play. It’s common sense that players who train with poor effort and poor attitude don’t play.
This probably affected Gio Reyna in the first few games of the tournament. When Berhalter addressed Reyna not seeing the field against Wales, he spoke of the need for Jordan Morris’ speed. He didn’t mention Reyna’s poor attitude and behavior.
It’s a tough situation for Berhalter. The people who didn’t like his explanation of not playing Reyna at the time probably would have been angry with him for saying that the reason why Reyna didn’t play is because of his attitude and effort in training. Then Berhalter would have been seen as harming the reputation of a young player and making a private team matter public.
The truth is that Berhalter was actually protecting him at the time. Now, Berhalter disclosing the incident to the leadership group after the World Cup is a different matter. But still, at the heart of all this was Gio. If he showed up with the proper mindset, none of this happens.
Moving forward, Reyna needs to learn from this. Yes, some people will see him as an entitled young player. But he has two things going for him. First, he’s exceptionally talented. If he was just a decent level prospect, he might not be worth the time for a lot of teams. But since he’s so good, he will get chances. Second, he’s young. There is a ton of time for him to put this behind him. He’ll be under a microscope, and if he acts well, that will put distance between himself and the stigma this episode created.
Even if Berhalter returns as coach, just show up, work hard, support teammates, and be a model for all the lessons young players are taught about being on a team. If he does this, it will work out in the end.
For U.S. Soccer, the report worked out nicely. Yes, it’s not a good incident, but the report was geared towards closure. Consider this:
- The report found that no hiring policy was violated with Berhalter
- The report found that all employees of U.S. Soccer (most notably Berhalter, Earnie Stewart, and Brian McBride) cooperated honestly with the investigation and violated no internal rule.
- The report reduced or eliminated the legal significance of the 1991 incident. It doesn’t have to be considered when addressing whether to rehire Berhalter for the next cycle.
- Also, it makes it harder for Berhalter to use it as a basis to sue the Reyna family since the legal significance of the 1991 incident was downplayed.
- The report did not find criminal activity on the part of the Reyna family. It would have been awful for U.S. Soccer to see a prominent former player, former employee, and figurehead of the sport in this country be subject to a criminal investigation.
It wasn’t a complete win for U.S. Soccer. Their policy and procedures were not adequate to deal with the situation. For one, U.S. Soccer knew that Claudio and Danielle Reyna were a handful as parents for years. Why were they still given such access to Earnie Stewart and Brian McBride during the World Cup. Yes, Caludio was a former teammate of all the individuals, but there needs to be a policy that creates a healthy boundary between parents/agents/friends of players and the team, especially during games and tournaments.
Some people have said that it was unhealthy to have so many people within U.S. Soccer who were all close teammates. I don’t share that opinion. American soccer is still young and McBride, Berhalter, and Claudio Reyna all were former players now in that 45-55 age range. But it is only going to be common that when players retire, they look to stay in the sport in some capacity. A number of former players will rise to powerful levels when they hit these ages. If they are former players, they are likely going to have been former teammates. There just isn’t a way around that.
For U.S. Soccer, they just didn’t have the policies in place of keeping team boundaries when too many people have known each other for years and felt comfortable having high levels of access.
The report gives a roadmap to end this ugly saga as quickly as possible. Earnie Stewart has moved on. Brian McBride has moved on. Gregg Berhalter remains a candidate to coach the next cycle and none of this has to play a role in his evaluation. If he doesn’t get the job, this incident shouldn’t impact his candidacy for a club job. Berhalter will probably land on his feet just fine.
How the Reyna family moves on remains to be seen. There is a way for Claudio and Danielle to grow and put this behind them, but it will take time. Gio Reyna also needs to just focus on his soccer and perhaps distance himself from his parents. European clubs will be well aware of this and they will not want to be taking on excess baggage.
One of the worst things about this whole incident is that it took away the shine of what should have been a very positive cycle for U.S. Soccer on the men’s side of the program. It dominated CONCACAF by winning the 2021 Nations League and Gold Cup tournaments. The program qualified for the 2024 Olympics, ending a drought that extended back to 2008. The U.S. U-20 team won CONCACAF in impressive fashion.
The 2022 World Cup was also successful. The team didn’t lose in group play and played the English team to a hard-fought draw. The loss to the Dutch was disappointing but, let’s face it, the Dutch are one of the best teams in the world. Still, the U.S. team went at the Dutch in a way they historically haven’t been able to against top teams. If you watch the knockout loss to Belgium in 2014 and the knockout loss to the Dutch, the improvement from the U.S. team is obvious. There is still a long way to go, but the 2022 World Cup was a positive step for the U.S. team.
Now with this report over, perhaps this whole incident can be put to bed allowing fans to appreciate the recent past while getting optimistic for the near future.