Analysis / Commentary / Opinion / US / US Soccer / USMNT / USMNT

Mistakes give opportunity to wisdom

Photo: Sasha Wagner

Six months after letting his contract expire, the United States Soccer Federation has given the reigns back to Gregg Berhalter as the U.S. Men’s National Team manager.

There’s a dearth of valid explanations for the colossal waste of time that has lapsed since Berhalter’s contract expired.

Chiefly, consider that the USSF is now already six months into one of the most pivotal four-year periods in the history of the sport on US soil. Then take into account that the 2022 World Cup was played six months later than usual, technically setting the USSF back a full year into the World Cup cycle.

A mass exodus from the front office of the USSF may be the only reasonable explanation for the tardiness of the hire.

Wake of the fallout

For the next three years, all eyes will be on how effectively Berhalter manages the players in the USMNT pool. With the spotlight on his every move in the wake of the storied fallout between him and Giovanni Reyna and his family, there is no lack of pressure on the boss. Just as much attention will be paid to his own growth as a coach — his flexibility as a manager and competence as a leader.

In this growth, it is fair to say that not wanting to see him stand in the way of the success of the USMNT is paramount.

By this, I am of course referring to finding a way to get his best players on the pitch. Most notably, constructing a way to get Reyna — the generational yet controversial talent — on the field.

Without digging too much into the Berhalter v. Reyna saga, the latter is on the trajectory of putting the newly reminted boss in a tough position. With the 2022 World Cup now seven months behind us, Gregg will want to mend the fission between the two as much and as quickly as he can.

Reyna’s family? That is a different story not worth getting into.

Room for Reyna?

Reyna’s performance in his recent minutes with the USMNT in the Concacaf Nations League is worth noting.

The 20-year-old looked dynamic playing the 10 under both interim managers Anthony Hudson and BJ Callaghan, in a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, no less. His body language has markedly improved. His defensive work rate and willingness have been there. He has seemed to play with a contagious confidence.

During the final, after coming out due to injury, the camera even caught Reyna encouraging and waving his teammates on.

His behavior in the CNL Cup: the genuine antithesis of what seemed to be his experience at the World Cup.

Which raises a perfectly valid question: where do you fit him into the starting XI going forward?

Puzzling to many, Gregg chose not to use Reyna in any starting XI at the World Cup. The highly regarded attacking talent for (almost) Bundesliga winners Borussia Dortmund only played 51 minutes across four games in Qatar.

The only conclusion we can reach from this is that the Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams midfield is the spine that Gregg preferred for his possession-based 4-3-3.

While Musah, McKennie, and Adams all are very good players and together create a strong spine defensively, none of them have the attacking prowess and ability going forward that Reyna does.


Berhalter’s previously preferred midfield in the center of the park can at times be redundant.

Positionally, Musah and McKennie both play the roles of the eight with Adams as the holding six. All three are different styles of player, but all three tend to occupy much of the same territory when the USMNT is in possession.

Too defensive?

Certainly, an argument can be made that it is.

The lineups we saw both Hudson and Callaghan roll out over the last four Concacaf Nations League matches have included more attacking players in the XI, which has improved the quality of the side.

Still, all three are quality players and fairly responsible in possession. Maybe this is what Gregg sees in the midfield, as he seemingly values possession above all else.

All three players see the game very well with the field in front of them and enjoy sitting deeper. McKennie may not cover a lot of ground, but he can distribute quite well and plays well aerially from box to box. Musah is extremely challenging to dispossess with the ball at his feet when he is able to build up a head of steam into space. And perhaps most importantly, Adams running and ball-winning is unique and irreplaceable — not to mention being the current captain when in the lineup.

It was a hamstring injury to Tyler Adams that made the space for Reyna to be the starter in the Nations League semi-final and final. But the captain isn’t likely to come out of the starting XI when he is healthy.

Gregg’s 4-3-3

In Gregg’s 4-3-3, the tendency of this particular midfield trio is to sit deeper. This can cause spacing issues between the midfield and attack.

The three forwards can easily become isolated, forcing the wingers and striker to compensate by altering their movement and come deeper.

Take for example the games in Qatar against Wales, England, and the Netherlands. In order to connect play from the midfield to the attack, Pulisic and Weah had to drop deeper to pick up the ball. This would often lead to backward passes, matriculating the ball to the other side of the pitch slowly without any real purpose.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This lack of purpose could be attributed to the shortfall of efficient number IX play (an issue that the inclusion of Ricardo Pepi could have solved?).

The proposition is that it can also be attributed to the insufficiency of legitimate game-changers in the center of the park. Reyna has the ability to change the game with the ball at his feet better than any of those players. He takes pressure off of his teammates with his ability to possess with his close control, his vision, and his movement.

He creates.

He dismantled Canada, the only other competition for the USMNT in Concacaf in 2023, like a tactician. Along with many other touches on the night, his beautifully weighted pass to Balogun allowed Flo to put it away first-time, opening the newcomer’s account for the red, white, and blue.


With the inflexibility Gregg has shown to switch up from his standard 4-3-3, Reyna would be hard-pressed to find a way into the XI.

One thing is clear: Gio has visibly shown growth in his development as a human and as a player from just seven months ago. Moreover, it is even more important that Gregg himself grows as a manager and leader.

Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom. Reyna has shown so far that he is capable of learning from his missteps. Does this mean that Gio deserves to start? I can’t answer that.

However, no matter how messy the situation between the two has become, it is imperative that Gregg Berhalter learn from his own mistakes and foster the relationship with Reyna that any young and misguided player deserves.


  1. pragmatist says:

    I think part of what skews our view of Renyna’s performances is the level of competition in CONCACAF. As a team, we are now well above the rest. As a result, they can play free and attacking soccer without worrying too much about being punished on the counter. I want to see games against the top Euro and South American teams and see how we handle them. My guess is that we’ll attack against lesser opponents, and sit back more against the top teams. If that’s the case, then we’ll get more critiques of GGG’s style, a la the World Cup. But if they can attack more, no matter the opponent, I think we’ll see more optimism and more of what this team can do.
    Also, I agree with the assessment of Reyna’s body language and participation. But you may be underselling how much of a prima donna he was at the World Cup, and how little his teammates wanted to play with him. That was clearly a factor in his playing time, as well. If his attitude has truly turned a corner, then we are likely to see him unleashed more.
    One other factor in the recent games was the presence of Balogun. Defenses were fully aware that he was there in the last two games and this gave the rest of the team more space to work. Having that true #9 changes so many aspects of the game.
    The biggest questions going forward will be GGG’s flexibility and willingness to attack. This whole storyline about mending fences drives me nuts. These guys are professionals. Come to work, do your job. There are plenty of situations in sports history where players and coaches won, even though they weren’t best friends. GGG and Gio and Pepi will get over the drama of Qatar. They all want 2026 to be the special event we expect. GGG isn’t going anywhere. I doubt the players will sabotage the World Cup for the next 3 years. We’ll see pros out there. Now it’s a question of maximizing the talent.

    • Three years…. that’s the key to all of this chatter. It’s a long time and a lot can happen.

      No matter what this squad does in this year’s tournaments, or the next 3 years… the squad will look different for WC2026…


      just to name a few that will get playing time no matter how temperamental that child becomes, again.

      Plus the vote of confidence that USMNT gave to Berhalter so no one can be “Reyna’d” again.

  2. BTW….. what really ’caused’ all of this was not the Reyna’s nor that child.
    Berhalter is 100% to blame for NOT sending that child home when he was acting up. He wimped out, and caused himself more hell than any of us needed to witness.
    The focus of what was accomplished in Qatar was totally over shadowed by this poor decision, my guess that’s why they gave the job back.

  3. Eddie Would Go says:

    Great analysis and a well written article. Thanks!

    I was really hoping that Thierry Henry would be hired. Who better to develop Flo’s talent?!?

    The criticisms of GGG summarized here are all valid, but the guy is somehow, percentage-wise, the winningest coach in USMNT history. That is all about the talent at his disposal, though, than any coaching prowess.

    Hey, anyone remember when GGG compared Reyna to Maradona after that amazing slalom run in Estadio Azteca?

    Looking forward to US v Jamaica tonight, and hopefully the storms don’t interrupt the Union v Miami match. How ironic it would be if lightning caused the match to be rescheduled and then we get to play them with Messi and Busquets in the lineup!


  4. That child will not be a factor 3 years from now.

    Just look at the potential roster of midfielders by 2026 (won’t list them)… and yeah Berhalter made a HUGE error not sending that child home.

    But HIS accomplishments were finally recognized with his rehire. USS had no choice, really. They did what they said… investigated and found it all to be dramatic… then did an exhaustive search for a new coach, the old coach.
    We were all “Reyna’d”… and NO ONE deserved that selfishy motivated, scumbag thing they did.

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