She’s Got the Hardest Job in Soccer. Can She Keep Winning?

Santana’s roommate at the time, Danielle Egan, later married Claudio Reyna, a leading American player. Subsequently, Berhalter and Reyna were World Cup teammates in 2002 and 2006; at both tournaments, Reyna was the U.S. captain. In 2021, while working as an executive for the M.L.S. club Austin F.C., Reyna acquired the Berhalters’ son, Sebastian, for that season. When it ended, Reyna declined to keep him on the team. The Reynas also have a soccer-playing son, Gio, who was expected to be a major contributor for the United States at the World Cup but played only 52 minutes. Berhalter’s sporadic use of Reyna, which generated critical commentary, looked suspiciously personal.

Following the World Cup, Danielle Reyna told U.S. Soccer about Berhalter’s college fight with Santana. Any discussions about extending Berhalter’s expired contract had to be put off so that an investigation could be done. It was hard not to see the entire sordid episode as a microcosm of the federation: common interests undermined by feuds and rivalries — “some of which,” Cone says, “have existed before I was born.”

Berhalter, who was candid and remorseful about the decades-old incident, was cleared in March. That meant only that he could again be a candidate for the position. In June, following an extensive search — characterized as data-driven by the federation — and a six-month stretch without a permanent coach, Berhalter was rehired. That struck many observers as preposterous, or worse — “a sham and an embarrassment,” as Craig Burley of ESPN put it.

Nevertheless, many American fans are optimistic about how the U.S. men will fare at the 2026 World Cup, much of which will be held in the United States. The U.S. team hasn’t reached the quarterfinal round since 2002, yet it isn’t unusual to hear commentators say that nothing short of a semifinal will qualify as a success. It should be noted that the tenure of U.S. Soccer’s president before Cordeiro ended because of a disappointing result by the U.S. men. After a loss to tiny Trinidad and Tobago caused the team to miss the 2018 World Cup, Sunil Gulati, an economist who had guided the federation for more than a decade, announced that he would not seek re-election. Cone didn’t directly hire Berhalter, but her fortunes now are at least partly intertwined with his.

This April, the men played an exhibition match against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz. Before the game, Cone, who had flown in to support them, met with current and prospective sponsors at a restaurant near the stadium. Later, she did a breezy interview on Telemundo, breaking news that she had saved for the occasion: The United States and Mexico had submitted a joint bid to host the women’s World Cup in 2027. At halftime, she led a group of federation executives down the concourse to Mexico’s suite for an exchange of gifts, which is common at international games.