Gio Reyna has been ‘killing it’ for the USMNT. Can he now do it at the club level?

ARLINGTON, Texas — The look on Gregg Berhalter’s face was the epitome of glee.

In the 63rd minute of the Concacaf Nations League final, Gio Reyna perfectly positioned his body over a bouncing ball at the top of the penalty box and struck a low volley past Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. It was a spectacular and technical goal that gave the United States men’s national team a 2-0 lead over their rival.

The score went unchanged for the remainder of the match, and the U.S. fought against a feisty and physical opponent to hold on and win its third straight CNL title.

After Reyna scored — his second goal of the tournament — he ran to the right corner flag while pointing at the U.S. crest on his chest. His teammates — those on the field and on the bench — joined him in a jumping-up-and-down-in-a-circle celebration. Berhalter sprinted down the touchline to join the group with a joyous smile that took up his whole face.

Despite playing outside of Dallas, the crowd was pro-Mexico and the opposing fans roared with boos after Reyna’s goal. As the American players celebrated, nearby fans threw cups of beer at them. Seeing this happen in real time, Berhalter made his way to Reyna and tried to shield him from any other flying objects.

A little while later, Reyna was subbed off in the 75th minute. He was on a minutes restriction, was starting to cramp up, and the USMNT had the lead in hand, so it made sense. When he stepped off the pitch, Berhalter put his arms around the player for a second. They both seemed happy. 

“[He said] something along the lines that he was proud of me,” Reyna, who was named the tournament’s best player, said after the match. 

“It was a long night, a lot’s been happening since the game,” Reyna said smiling, a nod to the beer and goggles celebration the players had in the locker room after the win, “and I just couldn’t tell you word for word. But it was just something nice. It wasn’t anything too special, but it was nice.”

This is all a testament to how far both Berhalter and Reyna have come since the drama that ensnared their relationship at the 2022 World Cup. After the Americans were eliminated in the round of 16 of that tournament 15 months ago, Berhalter revealed that he nearly sent an unnamed player home due to a poor attitude in training. It was eventually discovered that the player was Reyna. His parents – former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna and former USWNT player Danielle Egan – retaliated by bringing up a decades-old domestic violence incident between Berhalter and his now-wife to U.S. Soccer. Berhalter’s contract expired shortly thereafter, though he was re-hired a few months later.

In the aftermath, there was a lot of interest in the relationship between Berhalter and Reyna. Would Reyna be called into camp? Would he start? How would the vibes be? How would it affect the team? Etc, etc.

Reyna was recalled to the USMNT last October, and started the final four matches of 2023. In the USMNT’s semifinal win over Jamaica on Thursday, he had two beautiful assists in extra time that helped the squad to a 3-1 win. Following that game, Reyna spoke with reporters for the first time since everything transpired after the World Cup. 

“Obviously, what happened, happened,” Reyna said. “But I think both of us are so far past it, and just so focused on the group that it’s not even an issue at all anymore. We’re just so far past it.”

He essentially repeated those sentiments late Sunday night, adding that he felt like this was all water under the bridge after their first camp back together last year.

“If we didn’t put it in the past, it would have been affecting the team and I think that was most important for the both of us,” Reyna explained. “I think the last few camps that he’s been here and we’ve been back together, it’s been pretty successful. So yeah, like I said, it’s in the past. It’s pretty simple.”

[Related: Gio Reyna on Gregg Berhalter drama: ‘Both of us are so far past it’]

Time heals. Even if it didn’t, there’s no way Berhalter could avoid Reyna, who, at just 21 years old, is establishing himself as one of the most valuable players in the team. 

“The kid’s unbelievable, honestly,” said Tyler Adams, who also scored a banger of a goal to put the USMNT up 1-0 right before halftime. “So many people talk about the noise that surrounded him and everything that he went through. But at 21 years old, every single one of the players on our team has gone through a situation like that. Maybe not as extreme, of course, because it was surrounding a World Cup and we didn’t play in a World Cup at 21. 

“He’s got that grit, he’s got that intensity, and when he plays like that every night, he’s gonna be playing at a big club very soon.”

Last month, Reyna joined Nottingham Forest on loan from Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of the season. Minutes have been sparse for Reyna, and there were questions about his fitness entering this camp. He played 75 minutes against Jamaica, coming on at halftime and playing through extra time; then 75 more in the final against Mexico. 

“He was determined to grind through it and power through it and I thought he was doing really well,” Berhalter said. 

Berhalter, who said he and Reyna “started to gain trust” and were patient in rebuilding their relationship after the World Cup fallout, gushed about the young player’s talent.

“He can unlock defenses and he just has these qualities that are really good,” Berhalter said. “I also believe, and I’ve said this before, that he can be a midfielder. I think that’s the next evolution for him because he can control the tempo so well and he can make final passes when he gets the ball in pockets in transition and he’s a good finisher.”

Berhalter and Reyna both hope that Reyna can use this momentum as a springboard to get more minutes with his club. And for the USMNT, it’s especially heartening to see a confident and healthy Reyna in form with Copa America looming this summer. 

“He’s killing it here,” defender Chris Richards said of his teammate. “Hopefully he continues that form.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her at @LakenLitman.

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Giovanni Reyna

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