Reyna is included in the latest U.S. roster, which was announced on Thursday for games against Germany on Oct. 14 and Ghana three days later. The matches will mark Reyna’s first action with the USMNT since fracturing his right leg in the Concacaf Nations League final against Canada last June.
More critically, Reyna and Berhalter will be working together for the first time since the 2022 World Cup, when tensions between the pair led to the families of both men being engulfed by a very public feud.
There are still plenty of questions about what the future holds for Reyna at international level. Foremost among these is the extent to which Reyna and Berhalter’s relationship is really mended.
There was a roughly eight-month period in which the two didn’t talk following a maelstrom of incidents that stemmed from Reyna’s limited playing time at the 2022 World Cup. Berhalter afterward contributed to the subsequent outing of Reyna’s poor attitude, and in response Reyna’s family told U.S. Soccer officials about a decades-old domestic violence incident involving Berhalter.
Suffice it to say, there was considerable healing that needed to take place.
On a conference call with reporters after Thursday’s roster announcement, Berhalter confirmed that the first step took place “weeks ago” with the two conversing over a Zoom call. He didn’t provide much in the way of details beyond that, except for saying that he and Reyna are in a “good spot” and that it was a “positive conversation.”
Berhalter did acknowledge that the process of mending the relationship is ongoing.
“I think it will take time,” Berhalter said. “It is a difference between a Zoom call and being in person. But I think that both intentions are positive, and the idea is that we work together for the team to be successful, and I think we’re both prepared to do that.”
Time will reveal the extent to which that actually happens. There are ups and downs in any coach-player relationship, and what took place over those eight months isn’t just going to wash away.
But the two have to begin somewhere, and the upcoming camp is the place to start. Reyna’s return to the national team camp raises its own set of on-field questions, though.
Reyna hasn’t played for club or country since sustaining the aforementioned right leg fracture. He has been healthy enough to be on the bench for Borussia Dortmund of late, so how much could he see the field for the U.S. team?
Berhalter indicated his approach to using Reyna in the upcoming games will be similar to his handling of Folarin Balogun during the September window. On that occasion, with Balogun working his way back to full fitness following his move to AS Monaco, Berhalter limited the forward to 45-minute stints against Uzbekistan and Oman.
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Berhalter said on Thursday that his goal is to build up Reyna’s fitness “in a safe way” and send him back to Dortmund in a position to make a greater impact for his club.
“We’re going to be creative with the minutes,” Berhalter said in relation to Reyna. “We want to certainly get him on the field and work through both the Germany game, and seeing what position he plays. And then in the Ghana game, same thing, seeing how we can get him in different positions throughout the camp on the field.”
Where Reyna is deployed may just be the biggest question of all. During the 2022 cycle, Reyna played almost exclusively on the wing. But against better teams, the U.S. has struggled to create chances on a consistent basis and, in response, Berhalter could look at putting the creative Reyna in a position to get on the ball more.
At the 2022 World Cup — in which Reyna played a mere 52 minutes due in part to disciplinary issues — the USMNT’s xG, or expected goals, per 90 minutes of actual playing time (which includes stoppage time) was 0.91. That xG, which measures chance creation, ranked 22nd in the tournament among all 32 teams, and 12th out of the 16 teams that reached the knockout stages. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but it still points to how the U.S. could use more creativity.
One possible solution was on display last June, when the USMNT, under interim manager B.J. Callaghan, trotted out a 4-2-3-1 with Reyna in a central attacking role. Against World Cup qualifiers Mexico and Canada, the U.S. attack looked much more fluid and the attack also benefited from Reyna handling set piece duties.
Berhalter didn’t rule out Reyna reprising that central attacking role, but he didn’t completely commit to it either.
“In terms of Gio, we see him being able to play three positions: center midfielder, attacking midfielder and winger,” Berhalter said. “And we use wingers in different ways. Sometimes the wingers are wide against the line, and sometimes they’re in between the lines, and we see him as more of an in-between-the-lines winger.”
The continued absence of defensive midfielder Tyler Adams due to a hamstring injury means the U.S. manager has some other questions about his midfield to solve. Does he play with a single holding midfielder or resort to a double pivot? But in the past, Berhalter has lauded how the midfield trio of Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie played together, hinting that he would continue with that group if all were healthy.
During the Nations League, Callaghan noted that Reyna’s ability to defend is an area where the U.S. coaching staff have asked for improvement, and the 20-year-old responded well to that challenge. If that continues to be the case, the benefits of playing Reyna centrally seem to outweigh his defensive shortcomings, especially if he has two out of Musah, McKennie and (hopefully) Adams playing behind him. It seems the time has arrived to gather more data about Reyna’s ability to operate in that midfield role.
Either way, the games against Germany and Ghana will certainly provide a stern test to see if the U.S. attack — as well as Berhalter and Reyna — can move forward.