OPINION: The plague of entitlement in United States soccer


Jeffrey F. Lin

This youth soccer game is a great example of the pay-to-play culture in American youth soccer. Photo by Jeffrey F. Lin on Unsplash.

Aiden Bonilla

On Dec. 3, The U.S Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) lost to the Netherlands in the Round of 16 in the 2022 World Cup, knocking them out of the illustrious tournament. This was seen as significant progress for the team, as they missed the last World Cup entirely following a shocking loss to Trinidad and Tobago. The team is stacked with swaths of young talent that will be around for many tournament cycles, such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Giovanni Reyna. 

However, Reyna is a special case. He is the son of Claudio Reyna, one of the greatest American soccer players of all time, and Danielle Egan, who also played for the United States and at UNC. While Reyna is only 20 years old, he is arguably the most talented player on the U.S. roster. He plies his trade for Borussia Dortmund, one of the biggest clubs in Germany, and starts whenever he’s healthy. Sadly, his health has been a concerning issue throughout his young career. Since the start of 2022, he has missed 23 out of a possible 53 games, meaning he has only played in 56 percent of the past year’s games. 

This concern over Reyna’s health stemmed over into the World Cup camp, as he was still recovering from a muscle injury as the team started the tournament. Gregg Berhalter, the USMNT head coach at the time, was allegedly concerned about his match fitness and sharpness leading into the World Cup. 

Berhalter has been oft-derided and criticized by the U.S faithful, mostly due to his favoritism for inferior domestic-based players, as well as his adherence to outdated and even primitive tactics. He also has been accused of being a nepotism hire, as his brother Jay is the U.S Soccer Federation’s chief commercial and strategy officer, a position that has major influence over the hiring of the head coach. 

Berhalter told Reyna before the tournament that he would have a limited role due to his lack of game time this year. Reyna did not take kindly to the news, as he reportedly showed minimal effort in training leading up to their first match. This lack of effort and immaturity was not going to help his cause for minutes, and as the USMNT tied their second game against England, Reyna was given only about seven minutes to make an impact. 

As the tournament dragged on, the USMNT scraped by their group, mostly struggling with creativity and scoring, two attributes that Reyna possessed in spades. The most game time he would see all World Cup would be in the Round of 16 against the Netherlands, but even he couldn’t singlehandedly bring the U.S back from the brink. 

Reyna continued to show a lack of effort in training, and reportedly sulked around due to his lack of minutes. The rest of the team did not take kindly to this, almost voting to kick him off the team entirely. After conferring with many of the senior players and Berhalter, Reyna eventually apologized in front of the team, and they moved on. Or so we thought.

After the tournament, Berhalter gave a speech at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York. In his seminar, he referenced the events above, but didn’t name the player who was almost sent home. Fans, however, were quick to deduce that Reyna was the culprit, and this was confirmed a few days later after an Instagram post from the player. In his post, Reyna owned up to his mistakes and bad attitude, while also explaining that his passion should never interfere with his intensity, a mature message from the 20 year old.

His parents, however, did not take kindly to Berhalter’s public outing of their son’s turmoil in Qatar. Danielle, Reyna’s mother, has known Berhalter’s wife since they were roommates at UNC. The two couples have been close ever since, leading to an added melodramatic twinge of drama lingering about.

Berhalter’s head coach contract was set to expire on Jan. 1, 2023, but negotiations were set for a renewal. He set out his goal as making the semifinals in the 2026 World Cup in North America, a feat the U.S hasn’t accomplished since 1930. Despite these ambitious plans, there’s a good chance Gregg Berhalter will never coach another USMNT game again. 

A week before the new year, a Twitter statement was released by Berhalter via the U.S Soccer Federation official account. It detailed the fact that he was being blackmailed over a 1991 domestic violence dispute between him and his now-wife Rosalind. It occurred while they both attended UNC, and Berhalter kicked his then-girlfriend in a drunken rage at a bar. She promptly left him, while Berhalter sought counseling and anger management classes. After a few months, they were back together again and on their way to marriage. While this might not seem to be the biggest deal, it was still a serious issue, and one that Danielle, Rosalind’s college roommate, would obviously know about. These two families are still extremely close, so a betrayal of this kind would likely sting even worse.

The next day, ESPN reported that it was in fact the Reyna’s who were blackmailing their close friends, all over their son’s lack of game time at the World Cup, along with Berhalters later statements. This will likely give the U.S Soccer Federation a free out from retaining Berhalter, who yes may have been a poor coach, but never deserved to be treated in such a disagreeable manner, especially by one of his best friends. 

This pervasive nature of entitlement and arrogance of American sports has destroyed the very being of soccer in America. The pay-to-play model limits growth by income, and excludes many of the less fortunate from even having a chance of making it professionally. In other countries, many of the best players came from abject poverty. Messi, Ronaldo and even Neymar all would’ve never made it if they were born in America. The culture of soccer in the U.S is very much one of exclusion and institutionalism. 

Nepotism rages in the higher levels of soccer governance, as seen with Berhalter only being appointed because of his brother’s position. This is also evident in the Reyna family, as Giovanni was raised in the best conditions possible for a player to succeed. Both of his parents were former players, and knew the head coach like a family member. Ironically this is what led to his downfall, as Berhalter’s personal connection with Reyna almost certainly clouded his judgment when it came to the decision at hand. It also possibly ruined Berhalter’s future career prospects, as if he wasn’t close with the Reyna’s, he never would have been blackmailed. This is in no way blaming Berhalter for the situation, but it is some type of poetic irony for the failings of the country’s attempts to Americanize soccer.

This quarrel will forever taint the legacy of one of the best U.S soccer players of all time in Claudio Reyna. Instead of being remembered as a world class midfielder, rather people will think of the spoiled overbearing father who used underhanded tactics to try and get a leg up on the establishment illegally. But finally, it will hurt Giovanni Reyna the most. A young talented starlet who might see his career extinguished by injuries and controversy, but there is hope. 

Reyna made his comeback yesterday in a short appearance for his club Dortmund, and scored a beautiful goal to win the game for his side. He celebrated by putting his fingers in his ears and smiling, perhaps a hopeful sign that he can ignore the criticism and just focus on his game, one goal at a time…