An investigation by the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP has cleared Gregg Berhalter of any violations that would prevent U.S. Soccer from re-hiring him as the U.S. men’s national team coach, the position he held from December 2018 until his contract ran out Dec. 31, 2022.
The findings by Alston & Bird, hired by U.S. Soccer in December of 2022, were released in a report made public on Monday and included details of the behavior of Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan Reyna. The parents of Gio Reyna prompted the investigation by reporting to U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart that Berhalter physically assaulted his then-girlfriend and now wife, Rosalind Santana Berhalter, in 1992, when they were 18-year-olds.
As the investigation proceeded, U.S. Soccer asked Alston & Bird to expand the scope of the investigation to examine whether the interactions between the Reynas and representatives of U.S. Soccer “violated any applicable regulations.”
Claudio Reyna and Gregg Berhalter had been youth club, high school and USA teammates, including at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Rosalind Santana and Danielle Egan were teammates at the University of North Carolina, and the Reyna and Berhalter families had a long history of friendship. But Gio Reyna’s lack of playing time during the 2022 World Cup ignited the strife that led to the investigation.
The Alston & Bird Report, under “Impact of Witness Cooperation and Demeanor,” stated, regarding the Berhalters:
“We were impressed with Mr. Berhalter’s candor and demeanor during the Investigation. He cooperated fully and extensively with the Investigation and our requests for interviews. … Similarly, Mrs. Berhalter cooperated fully with the Investigation and gave us no reason to doubt the information she provided.”
Regarding the Reynas:
“We were less impressed with the Reynas’ cooperation during the Investigation. ... After several attempts to schedule an interview, we had two brief phone conversations with Mrs. Reyna on December 29th, and we did not succeed in having a follow-up conversation with her – or any conversation with Mr. Reyna – after that.”
Following his Hall of Fame playing career, Claudio Reyna was U.S. Soccer's Youth Technical Director in 2010-2013. He became NYCFC sporting director in 2016 before taking on a similar role at Austin FC in 2019. In January, amid the Alston & Bird investigation, he resigned as Austin FC sporting director but retains a technical advisor role with the club.
Alston & Bird’s investigation into the “Reynas’ Interactions with U.S. Soccer Officials: Findings of Fact” included exchanges dating back to when Gio Reyna played in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy:
• U.S. Soccer officials described several incidents in which Claudio Reyna contacted U.S. Soccer officials “to make complaints regarding his sons" and described his historical outreach as ‘inappropriate,’ ‘bullying,’ and ‘mean-spirited.’
• In February 2016, Claudio Reyna contacted a U.S. Soccer official in an attempt to overturn a red card that Gio Reyna received in a game: “We understand from the email that Mr. Reyna was told by a U.S. Soccer official at the time that the league had a consistent policy regarding red cards and did not review or overturn subjective referee decisions.”
• In or around July 2018 a U.S. Soccer official received an email from Claudio Reyna in which complained about a female referee in a game involving Gio Reyna: “Field, referee everything!! So embarrassing all the way around” and a follow-up email that stated: “And in all honest [sic] can we get real and have male refs for a game like this. Its embarrassing guys. What are we trying to prove? A game like this deserves bett[e]r attention.”
• Stewart reported that Claudio Reyna began making complaints to him during the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup about Gio Reyna’s lack of playing time, inadequate travel arrangements (specifically, not flying business class), and other instances.
• Gregg Berhalter said Claudio Reyna texted him during the 2019 U-17 World Cup about U.S. coach Raphael Wicky, stating “he’s the worst coach.” The report states that Berhalter said: “when things don’t go great for Gio, [the Reynas] pivot and go into attack mode.” Mr. Berhalter said that is what occurred at the 2022 FIFA World Cup was similar to what occurred at the U-17 World Cup. Mr. Berhalter provided text messages to us that he received from Mr. Reyna in 2019 and 2020 complaining about Gio Reyna’s treatment, travel arrangements, and coaches. "
• During the 2022 World Cup, after Gio Reyna stayed on the bench during the 1-1 opening tie with Wales, Danielle Reyna told a U.S. Soccer employee, "'You’re talking about 40 years of history between us, for something like this to happen’; and then said something along the lines of, “Once this tournament is over, I can make one phone call and give one interview, and his cool sneakers and bounce passes will be gone."' A U.S. Soccer employee told Alston & Bird, “The vibe was like, I can take him down.”
• Brian McBride, who succeeded Stewart as USMNT general manager when Stewart was promoted to Sporting Director and was also on the 2002 World Cup team with Berhalter, Stewart and Reyna, said he began receiving text messages from Claudio Reyna about Gio Reyna’s playing time and role on the team when he assumed the General Manager role in January 2020. McBride shared a text from Claudio Reyna dated Nov. 21, 2022, after the Wales game: “Our entire family is disgusted, angry, and done with you guys. Don’t expect nice comments from anyone in our family about US Soccer. I’m being transparent to you not like the political clown show of the federation.”
• During the 2022 World Cup, a day before the USA’s tie with England, Claudio Reyna told McBride, “you guys don’t even know what we know about Gregg.”
Alston & Bird's legal analysis of the Reynas' interaction with U.S. Soccer is that criminal laws were not violated because they did not rise to the level of extortion (the legal term for blackmail). "We obtained no information that could suggest that the Reynas demanded to receive something of value in exchange for not disclosing information about Mr. Berhalter to others.”
Nor did the investigation conclude that the Reynas violated U.S. Soccer policies:
"We reviewed U.S. Soccer’s Employee Handbook and Code of Conduct and determined that it does not apply to the Reynas because they are not employees of U.S. Soccer."
It concluded Claudio Reyna wasn't guilty of violating SafeSport Rules — even if he could be defined as a "participant" by being employed by Austin FC, which plays in U.S. Soccer-affiliated Major League Soccer — because "Mr. Reyna most likely did not engage in harassment as defined by the Code."
The investigation did not make a determination on whether Claudio Reyna violated FIFA regulations.
The 1992 Incident in North Carolina
On Dec. 6, Berhalter gave a speech at a leadership conference in which he shared an anecdote about how he handled an unnamed 2022 World Cup player whose attitude was such that the staff considered sending him home. Following Dec. 11 media reports on Berhalter's speech, Stewart received text messages from Claudio Reyna before he had an hour-long call with Claudio Reyna and Danielle Reyna.
After the call, Stewart reported to U.S. Soccer’s Senior Counsel what Danielle Reyna said about Berhalter physically assaulting his then-girlfriend and now wife of more than 25 years.
The report reads: “Mrs. Reyna told him on Dec. 11, 2022 that Mr. Berhalter “beat the shit out of” Mrs. Berhalter during their freshman year of college.” Asked for details about the 1992 incident she was referring to during the Alston & Bird investigation, Danielle Reyna said, “There was a physical fight. I wasn’t there. I didn’t observe the fight,” but Rosalind had told her about it.
On Jan. 3, Gregg Berhalter released a detailed statement, also signed by Rosalind, about the 1992 incident and U.S. Soccer revealed that the Alston & Bird investigation was underway. Berhalter admitted to kicking Rosalind in the legs after a heated argument after a night of drinking. He added he voluntarily sought counseling, told his family and friends about the incident, as Rosaland did with her family and friends, and took responsibility for his actions.
The scope of the Alston & Bird investigation regarding Berhalter was to "determine if there is any evidence to demonstrate (i) that Mr. Berhalter engaged in similar conduct at any other time in the last 31 years; or (ii) that Mr. Berhalter improperly withheld any information about the 1992 Incident from U.S. Soccer when he was considered for, and hired as, the USMNT Head Coach."
The investigation, through interviews, reported that the couple argued inside a bar named Players and continued to do so once outside: "Mrs. Berhalter hit Mr. Berhalter in the face; Mr. Berhalter pushed her to the ground and kicked her twice; Mr. Berhalter was tackled by a passerby, not known to either of the Berhalters; and Mrs. Berhalter got up and left. No police report was filed; no complaint or arrest was made; and no medical attention was sought by Mrs. Berhalter. Both during the Berhalters’ interviews in this Investigation, as well as in their joint public statement issued on January 3, 2023, Mr. and Mrs. Berhalter acknowledged the fact of this assault."
Key points in determining Berhalter eligible to be rehired by U.S. Soccer include the investigation's findings that:
• Witnesses confirmed that Mr. Berhalter acknowledged his culpability and his need to be accountable the day after the incident occurred in 1992. Witnesses further confirmed that he immediately self-reported the assault to his head coach at UNC the day after the incident occurred and took steps to prevent it from happening again.
• There is no risk of criminal prosecution for Gregg Berhalter because the conduct would have likely constituted the misdemeanor crime of assault on a female and North Carolina imposes a two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors.
• Interviews with Rosalind Berhalter and her family members lead to the conclusion that Gregg Berhalter never assaulted her again. And the investigation revealed no evidence to suggest that he has engaged in violence against another person at any time prior to or thereafter.
• The initial source of information about the 1992 incident (Danielle Egan) who by all accounts remained close friends during the 30-year period (1992-2022) also confirmed that she knew of no other fights or acts of alleged abuse by Gregg Berhalter.
• Although the 1992 incident was known to several people at the time, no complaints, reports or any formal actions were filed. There exists no police report nor or interaction with law enforcement, courts, or disciplinary committees at UNC. "In light of the absence of any contrary action or record of the 1992 Incident, none of the questions posed to Mr. Berhalter during the U.S. Soccer hiring process would have required him to disclose information regarding the 1992 Incident, nor would any standard background check run in connection with that process have revealed the incident. There is no basis to conclude that Mr. Berhalter misled U.S. Soccer about the 1992 Incident at any time. ... We have no reason to believe Mr. Berhalter’s answers were inaccurate, incomplete, or untruthful.
Among the reasons the report didn't find the 1992 incident a violation of SafeSport Rules is because the incident doesn't fall under categories that require reporting. It also concluded it does not violate FIFA regulations because of when it took place and because it falls outside the scope of the FIFA Code of Ethics.
Anthony Hudson, who served as assistant coach to Berhalter during the World Cup, is currently the USA’s interim head coach. U.S. Soccer has indicated the hiring of a permanent head coach will come after it appoints a new sporting director to succeed for Stewart, who resigned in February.
The federation released this statement:
"U.S. Soccer’s process for determining who will serve as Sporting Director is ongoing, and interviews are underway. The Sporting Director will lead the process of determining who will serve as head coach of the men’s national team. Given the investigators’ conclusion that there is no legal impediment to employing him, Gregg Berhalter remains a candidate to serve as head coach of the men’s national team."