Gregg Berhalter, the coach who led the United States men’s soccer team at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, is eligible to return for the next World Cup cycle after investigators looking into his personal conduct cleared him to remain a candidate for the job, the U.S. Soccer Federation said on Monday.
“There is no basis to conclude that employing Mr. Berhalter would create legal risks for an organization,” investigators said in a report made public on Monday.
While Berhalter will be allowed to try to reclaim his post — his contract had expired at the end of December, meaning he is no longer employed by U.S. Soccer — it was unclear if the federation would oblige him after having one of its marquee teams pulled into an ugly soap opera involving bad judgment, squad politics and an effort by a star player’s parents to seek revenge over his playing time.
The federation three months ago hired investigators at the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird to look into an incident in 1992 in which Berhalter kicked his wife, Rosalind, in front of a bar when they were dating as students at the University of North Carolina. No police report was filed over the incident, which had been a closely held secret among family and friends for decades.
U.S. Soccer removed Berhalter from his role after starting its investigation, which was sparked when the parents of the star forward Gio Reyna went to U.S. Soccer with details of the incident. Gio Reyna’s mother, Danielle, had been a teammate of Rosalind Berhalter at North Carolina at the time, and his father, Claudio, had played with Gregg Berhalter on the national team. The families had been close friends for years.
The investigators said they were “impressed with Mr. Berhalter’s candor and demeanor” during the inquiry and found no discrepancies between Gregg and Rosalind Berhalter’s description of the incident, with Gregg Berhalter saying he reported it to his college coach and also sought counseling for the way he acted. The two had been drunk when they left the bar arguing, and Rosalind hit Gregg in the face. Gregg then pushed her down and kicked her twice in the upper leg, the report said.
Both Berhalters, in a statement made public in January, acknowledged what happened and said they have been happily married for 25 years.
The report also said, based on interviews and research, that there was no reason to believe that Berhalter ever acted aggressively toward his wife in the years since the incident.
“The investigation revealed no evidence to suggest that he had engaged in violence against another person at any time prior or thereafter,” the report said, calling the 1992 incident “an isolated event.”
In a statement Monday, Gregg Berhalter said: “Rosalind and I respect the process that U.S. Soccer went through. We are grateful that it is concluded and look forward to what’s next.”
The report concludes a bizarre turn of events surrounding the World Cup involving Claudio and Danielle Reyna. The Reynas complained to U.S. Soccer about their son’s playing time in the tournament and suggested “they knew damaging information about Mr. Berhalter that U.S. Soccer officials did not know.”
The Reynas became upset after hearing Berhalter’s public comments about an unnamed player at the World Cup who “was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field” and who the staff considered sending home. Gio Reyna later revealed in an Instagram apology that he was the player in question, but by then the Reynas had vented to U.S. Soccer about what Berhalter had said, with Danielle Reyna telling the federation about the 1992 incident.
The Reynas spoke to U.S. Soccer, the report said, because they didn’t want the federation to renew Berhalter’s contract.
The report said Danielle Reyna first denied to investigators that she told the former U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart about the kicking incident, but then called back to say she indeed had. Compared to how open and willing the Berhalters had been in the inquiry, the report said, the Reynas were much less cooperative.
The Reynas could not immediately be reached for comment.
But the report also detailed some of the Reynas’ complaints to U.S. Soccer over the years, and specifically references Claudio Reyna’s yearslong outreach to the federation on behalf of his children, especially Gio.
At different times, Claudio Reyna had expressed his dissatisfaction with refereeing at the youth club level of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, travel arrangements at the U-17 World Cup (he wanted business class) and Gio’s playing time on the national team, according to the report. One person interviewed by investigators referred to Reyna’s interactions with U.S. Soccer about his sons as “inappropriate,” “bullying” and “mean spirited.” Another person, whose name was also redacted, said, “Mr. Reyna expected Gio Reyna to be treated better than other players.”
In a statement, U.S. Soccer noted that the report said that there is “a need to revisit U.S. Soccer’s policies concerning appropriate parental conduct and communications with the staff at the national team level.”
The federation went on to say: “We will be updating those policies as we continue to work to ensure safe environments for all participants in our game.”
The U.S. team, meanwhile, continues without a permanent head coach. Stewart, the sporting director, resigned in January amid the Reyna-Berhalter situation and took a job with a Dutch club team, and U.S. Soccer is looking for his replacement. The new sporting director will likely will be in charge of hiring the new coach.