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Gio Reyna returns to USMNT amid scandal that, U.S. Soccer insists, won't affect him

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 3: Christian Pulisic #10 and Gio Reyna #7of the United States find solis with one another after their loss to the Netherlands after a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USMNT at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Gio Reyna will join Christian Pulisic and 11 other 2022 World Cup veterans on the USMNT's first competitive roster since Qatar. (Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Among the many unanswered questions stemming from the Berhalter-Reyna saga, the one most relevant to American soccer's future revolves around a 20-year-old whose interpretation of his parents' behavior and the investigation that brought it to light is entirely unclear.

Nobody knows how Gio Reyna, arguably the most talented soccer player this country has ever produced, currently feels about the scandal that engulfed the U.S. men's national team's World Cup aftermath.

We, the public, do not know how he has processed the villainization of his father and mother; we do not know what feelings he might harbor toward USMNT and U.S. Soccer leadership, past, present and interim.

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So it was notable that, amid assurances from U.S. Soccer's side that none of this will impact Gio's standing with the team, he accepted a call-up this week ahead of the USMNT's first two competitive games since Qatar.

And according to interim coach Anthony Hudson, who spoke with Gio this week and previously, "there was no hesitation." Hudson said Wednesday that, when he met with Gio in person and later extended the invitation, "honestly, I never felt any resistance to [him] coming back."

Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tim Ream and nine other European-based World Cup veterans accepted call-ups as well. Zack Steffen, Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike and Miles Robinson are back in the fold. Taylor Booth, Auston Trusty and the recently committed Alejandro Zendejas could make their competitive debuts against Grenada or El Salvador later this month.

But Reyna, of course, is the most notable name on the USMNT's 24-man roster for those CONCACAF Nations League matches.

Since his 53 World Cup minutes and intense disappointment, Reyna has admitted "that I let my emotions get the best of me" in Qatar, specifically after being informed that his on-field role at the tournament would be limited. But in that same statement, posted to Instagram a week after the USMNT's elimination, as an anonymously sourced report and comments from Gregg Berhalter circulated, he took issue with the "highly fictionalized versions of events" that had been portrayed. He also wrote that he was "extremely surprised that anyone on the U.S. men's team staff would contribute to" the ongoing coverage — an implicit reference to Berhalter, who believed his comments were off the record.

The following month, with drama swirling around his parents, Gio roared back into form with his club team, Borussia Dortmund. He scored a world-class winner in Dortmund's first game back from the Bundesliga's World Cup break. He celebrated defiantly, with a "shush" and a chattering motion and two fingers in his ears. He scored a second consecutive winner three days later.

But throughout the winter, especially as his Dortmund playing time all but disappeared in February, uncertainty around his USMNT future lingered.

Hudson, a former Berhalter assistant and now the interim U.S. boss, visited Gio in Germany last month and sought to quell that uncertainty. "He is a talented, important player, a young player, and it needed to be addressed," Hudson told The Athletic. He said the meeting "went well." He noted that Reyna responded positively when confronted about his lack of effort in Qatar. "Beyond that, I don’t see Gio’s involvement in anything," he said, referencing the rift and investigation involving his parents and coach.

U.S. players have also attempted to put the issue to bed. Ream, speaking on a podcast in December, called it a "non-story." Walker Zimmerman noted in January that Reyna is among the USMNT players in a fantasy football group chat, and said he'd had contact with both Reyna and Berhalter since Qatar. "It's not an issue for us to keep in touch with them. We're friends. We're close. It's a non-issue for us," Zimmerman said.

Hudson stressed that "the other stuff" — the helicopter parenting and meddling; the vague threats made by Gio's parents, Claudio and Danielle; the allegation that brought Berhalter's 1992 assault of his now-wife into the public eye — "is separate from the kid, from the player.”

He reiterated that Wednesday. Two days after U.S. Soccer released an investigative report that likely tarnished Claudio's and Danielle's reputations permanently, and that included detailed descriptions from now-former sporting director Earnie Stewart of Gio's World Cup "mop[ing]" — and two days after U.S. Soccer said in a statement that Berhalter, whose contract expired Dec. 31, remains a candidate to reclaim his job long-term — Hudson said in a news release that, "as far as we’re concerned, Gio is a part of our program. He’s a good guy and a top talent and he is evaluated like any other player."

The bigger question is whether Gio feels all of that. Hudson declined to go into the specifics of their conversations. He acknowledged that Gio has been "impacted" by the "very very complex situation" above him, and that going through it would be "a challenge" for anyone. But Gio, according to Hudson, seems to "be in a good place, in the sense that I see that he is firmly focused on his soccer, his playing, and coming back into camp."

So Gio, like 23 other players, will report to Orlando next week. The USMNT will then fly to Grenada for a March 24 match (8 p.m. ET, TNT/Universo/Peacock), before returning to Florida for its CONCACAF Nations League group finale against El Salvador on March 27 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT/Universo/Peacock). The U.S. needs only to avoid defeat in both games to qualify for June's Nations League finals.

Below is the full roster. The most notable absentee, captain Tyler Adams, sustained a hamstring injury in training at his club, Leeds United, this week. The next-most notable absentees are Josh Sargent, Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

USMNT's March roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Soñora (Juárez)

FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Brom), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tim Weah (Lille), Alejandro Zendejas (Club América)

USMNT's split-squad plan for 2023

Robinson is the only MLS player on the roster, and that's by design. With January and April friendlies outside of FIFA windows bookending this March camp, and with two CONCACAF tournaments this summer, the USMNT staff is plotting a split-squad approach similar to the one they used in 2021.

European-based players weren't available in January and won't be available when the U.S. faces Mexico on April 19. They'll also need a break once a grueling, World Cup-infused club season ends in June.

MLS players, meanwhile, were available in January, and will be available in April. They'll be available for both the Nations League finals (June) and Gold Cup (June-July) as well, but participation in both would take them away from their clubs for over a month at the heart of the MLS season.

"So," Hudson said Wednesday, balancing all those factors, "for us to be able to really plan this out and have strong teams in all of these competitions, we have decided to select the team a certain way for these next few camps coming up."

In all likelihood, the Euro-heavy squad will return in early-mid June for the Nations League finals, then depart for their offseasons. An Americas-based squad will return for the isolated friendly in April, and most — though not all — of those players will contest the Gold Cup in late June and early July. There could be some overlap, and some geographical deviations, as there was in 2021. But there won't be much.

"We did this in 2021, it worked very well, where we obviously won both tournaments, and we more or less did it with two separate squads," Hudson said. "We were comfortable with that, we've done it before. And also it made sense in terms of trying to work with clubs, and not overloading the players."

And as for Robinson, the lone exception to the rule this month? He's working his way back from a torn Achilles. In April, players will go from weekend league matches to the Wednesday friendly in Arizona to another round of league matches the following weekend — a heavy load.

"We believe it's important for him to try as best as possible to play one game a week rather than really overload him with two games," Hudson said of Robinson. "So that way, we felt this camp was more suited to the April camp."

Oh, and also: "We just want to get him back in and see him, and work with him, and reintegrate him back into the squad" for the first time in almost a year.