Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
A new report from U.S. Soccer has cleared coach Gregg Berhalter, who led the U.S. men’s national soccer team during last year’s FIFA World Cup, to remain a candidate in the ongoing search for the squad’s next head coach after the revelation of a decades-old domestic violence allegation earlier this year.
And it highlighted the problematic behavior of Claudio and Danielle Reyna, the parents of one of the national team’s most promising young stars, who had known of the incident for years but only brought it to light after their son saw limited playing time during the World Cup.
“U.S. Soccer takes seriously both allegations of violence and allegations of inappropriate behavior toward our officials and staff,” the federation said in a statement. “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.”
Berhalter’s bid to renew his contract as head coach had been put on pause late last year, when allegations surfaced of a domestic violence incident between him and his now-wife, Rosalind, when they were both freshmen at the University of North Carolina in the early 1990s.
After learning of the allegation in December, U.S. Soccer hired the law firm Alston & Bird to conduct an independent investigation. The investigation later expanded to include “potential inappropriate behavior” toward federation officials and staff in connection with the original allegation.
The final report, released Monday, concluded that the incident was “unlawful and improper.”
But because it had occurred 26 years before Berhalter was hired, investigators said, it “does not prevent an employer from employing” him.
“Based on the information obtained, we conclude that the 1992 Incident was an isolated event, and we find no evidence to suggest that Mr. Berhalter has engaged in similar misconduct at any other time,” the report stated.
The report also confirmed that the allegations were brought to U.S. Soccer by Claudio Reyna, a former captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team and one-time official for MLS club Austin F.C., and his wife, Danielle, herself a former national team player. The couple’s 20-year-old son, Gio, played for the national team as a substitute in last year’s World Cup.
The revelation that the Reynas had shared the allegation with the federation roiled the soccer world in January. The Reynas and Berhalters were close friends. The women were college roommates at UNC, and the men had been close since childhood.
But, apparently upset over their son’s limited playing time, along with comments about him made later by Berhalter, the Reynas contacted U.S. Soccer to air the allegation as Berhalter’s coaching contract neared expiration.
Although U.S. Soccer officials said they believed the allegation had been shared in an effort to dissuade the federation from hiring Berhalter for another term as head coach, investigators concluded that the Reynas’ conduct did not constitute blackmail or extortion.
The investigation includes the most complete account of the Berhalter incident, which took place in January 1992.
“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,” the report reads.
No police report was filed, and Rosalind did not seek medical attention. Both Gregg and Rosalind were then varsity soccer players at UNC. Both reported the incident to their respective head coach the next day, the report said. No team officials took any disciplinary action.
Berhalter himself acknowledged the incident in January.
In a statement, Berhalter said the pair separated for a time while he sought out counseling. The two eventually reconnected and have since been married for more than 25 years.
“To this day, that type of behavior has never been repeated,” he wrote in the statement, which was signed by both Berhalter and his wife.
The report also described years of contacts from Claudio Reyna to U.S. Soccer officials and staff “to convey certain complaints and comments about U.S. Soccer’s treatment of his children,” especially Gio.
Interviewees described the communications as “inappropriate,” “bullying” and “mean-spirited.” In one email obtained by investigators, Reyna complained about the federation’s use of female referees, calling it “embarrassing.”
Investigators found that Reyna’s communications did not violate any U.S. Soccer policies. But because Reyna was then an MLS club official, the communications could represent a breach of FIFA’s code of ethics, investigators suggested. (Reyna resigned from his role as sporting director of Austin F.C. in January.)
In its statement, U.S. Soccer said the report “identifies a need” to revisit policies “concerning appropriate parental conduct and communications with staff at the National Team level.”