The USMNT wins its last game in the pre-Balogun era

Christian Pulisic

International soccer, especially this season, is highly weird. So while the USMNT’s 1-0 win over El Salvador to clinch a spot in the semifinals of the Nations League doesn’t look like much — and it isn’t — one must consider that most of the squad has been run ragged with their club teams, had a World Cup fisted into the middle of the season, have had a transatlantic flight plus a flight to Grenada and back and two games in four days. It doesn’t have to be pretty and frequently won’t be.

There isn’t much to take from these two games, with Grenada being pretty much a non-entity and then everyone worrying about getting back to Europe healthy. One thing to be encouraged by was that the only MLS player on the roster, Miles Robinson, looked as imperious in central defense as he did before he tore his Achilles last spring. He very well might have been the U.S.’s best player on the night, and had any El Salvador forward in his pocket.

We also learned that against any competent opposition — El Salvador barely qualifies — the U.S. still doesn’t have much of a solution when Tyler Adams isn’t around. Both Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah are not holding midfielders, and there were a few moments in the first half when they left a four-lane highway for El Salvador to counter through.

The U.S. struggled to find the final cross or pass for most of the match, with McKennie’s and Musah’s inconsistent passing and positioning being a problem along with some others just having off nights. At least, those were problems until they weren’t:

McKennie will pull this filth out occasionally, which makes you wonder how he can struggle to complete a five-yard pass so often. It was also poignant that Ricardo Pepi scored, because the story out of this U.S. camp has been the forward position, and mostly about the forward who wasn’t there but soon might be (more on him in a second). Daryl Dike got the start, but was mostly on the periphery. He’s a nice blunt instrument to have, but it felt like he was on his heels or waiting for the ball to come to him more than making the runs needed at this level. It was telling that Pepi, within two minutes of coming on for Dike, made this kind of run that forces action, which McKennie was only too happy to oblige. At this level, you have to make the run before the pass is obvious sometimes.

It was timely for Pepi, one because he’s angling for a transfer to greener pastures in the summer from FC Groningen in the Netherlands, and two because the USMNT might just be importing the biggest weapon at center forward they’ve ever had. His name is Folarin Balogun, and he recently pulled out of England’s under-21 squad and spent the week in Orlando, where the USMNT just happened to be based for this break.

Balogun has scored 17 goals in France’s Ligue 1 this season, only bested by Kylian Mbappe. If he makes the switch, it would be the first time the U.S. have had a true No. 9 banging in goals in a top-five European league since…Clint Dempsey? Who wasn’t really a No. 9? Let’s just say it’s been pretty damn rare. Balogun won’t turn 22 until July, fitting the profile of pretty much the rest of the squad, a player who can grow along with the rest of them into the next World Cup on home soil. Balogun is lightning quick and a willing presser, which should both fit into what the U.S. wants to do, though his link-up play could use a little work. But again, he’s 21.

The USMNT will try and repeat the summer of 2021 with the A-squad (likely) taking on the two games to round out the Nations League and then a B-team of MLSers and lesser-used players assigned to the CONCACAF Gold Cup after that. It’s certainly sounding like Balogun might get to use the Nations League as his introduction to the team. Pepi did his best to make us feel OK about a world where he doesn’t.

MLB umpires already in midseason form

MLB umps seem to be ready for the season, i.e. the most thin-skinned douchebags this side of the police, whom they pretty much think they are/dying to be:

Armed with a new set of rules they can enforce, you can expect to see a lot of umps this season getting the rabbit ears when they call for a clock violation from either pitchers or batters, and barely able to conceal their erection when they then get to toss said pitcher or batter for even twitching a facial muscle that could be considered an argument.

The NBA has been rife lately with refs and their itchy trigger fingers, seemingly escalating things on their own to justify their impulsive ejections of players and coaches. It would appear that MLB umpires are not going to be outdone, because that’s their job.

You gotta see this Nathan MacKinnon assist

You should probably turn down the lights, light some candles, and get the good stuff out to watch this Nathan MacKinnon pass to Valeri Nichushkin last night:

Claudio Reyna sounds like a real hoot

Claudio Reyna’s sunny disposition is sure to brighten up anyone’s day.

It is so perfect it hurts that US Soccer has been tied up in knots recently, mostly due to a parent of a player bitching about his kid’s playing time and threatening everyone within shouting distance about it. But apparently, US Soccer has been dealing with that kind of thing from Claudio Reyna for a long while now. How very American.

That was the leading bullet point of the official release of the report commissioned by US Soccer and conducted by Alston & Bird LLP, which was released this afternoon. Most of it is stuff we already knew–that Gio Reyna acted like a real turd in training, and thus got admonished by coach Gregg Berhalter and teammates alike, and didn’t play much in the World Cup, which pissed off the Reynas, who then, in turn, ratted him out to US Soccer in retaliation about a domestic violence incident 30 years ago, which ate the cat that ate the rat in the house Alexi Lalas built..or something.

However, there were a few nuggets that at least colored in what was already in the public sphere. The first is that Claudio has been pestering and threatening various US Soccer officials over Gio’s use and play since he was in the U-17s. Going as far back as 2016, Reyna the Elder has been bitching about everything from travel arrangements, which he apparently thought should be better for his son than any other player, to refereeing decisions that went against his son.

1. As background, Investigation witnesses described a pattern of periodic outreach by Mr.Reyna to U.S. Soccer officials and staff from in or around 2016 through the end of 2022, the purpose of which was to convey certain complaints and comments about U.S. Soccer’s treatment of his children, including primarily his son, USMNT player Gio Reyna. Witnesses reported that Mr. Reyna’s past actions involved attempts to influence decisions by U.S. Soccer officials and staff concerning his children on issues ranging from travel arrangements to the impact of on pitch refereeing decisions.


Adding to what happened this past December was how the Reynas behaved at the World Cup and specifically the first game. Friends and family of the players were bussed to the Wales game together, with the Berhalter and Reyna families being assigned the same bus for travel. While the trip to the stadium went off without a hitch, it was after the game when fireworks started and Gio’s mother refused to travel back to the hotel on the same bus as Rosalind Berhalter. It’s important to remember that the Berhalters and Reynas had been friends for 30 years (!), and after one match suddenly they were at a point where the Reynas were refusing to get back on the same bus as Mrs. Berhalter. They say 90 minutes can change lives, but come on, man…

[Redacted] further explained that, as people began departing for the busses, Mrs. Reyna said: “I’m not getting back on that bus”; [Redacted] expressed confusion; and Mrs. Reyna replied: “I don’t think you understand. I’m not getting back on that bus.”


The report conveys that both Gregg and Rosalind Berhalter were completely open and honest during their interviews about the incident that happened in 1992, as well as Gregg’s sorrow and attempts to make amends. The findings are far less kind to the Reynas, with Danielle changing her story from one interview to the next about when she talked to Ernie Stewart and what she threatened Berhalter with and when. Danielle claimed during interviews that she would never go public with her knowledge of the domestic violence incident with the Berhalters, but she was thinking of telling more people privately, which… what?

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.


The report also counters the Reynas’ argument that they only started mentioning the 1992 incident after Berhalter was caught on tape talking about Gio’s shit-tastic training behavior at a conference after the World Cup. The report documents how Danielle started mentioning what she knew about Berhalter after the Wales match, without mentioning it specifically. It makes it clear that it was pretty much all retaliation for their son’s playing time, while possibly poisoning the water for Berhalter to earn another contract from US Soccer after his first one ended in December.

At no point in the report do the Reynas, unlike their son originally, make any allowance for what their son had actually done in training, nor does there seem to be any appreciation for Berhalter taking the bullet for their son during the tournament, even if he slipped up at that conference afterward (though he didn’t mention Gio by name). Berhalter tried to cover for Gio when asked in Qatar by sticking to his wonky health as a reason he didn’t play much. Plenty of other managers would have been happy to bus-toss Gio Reyna to the press to absolve themselves, whereas Berhalter provided cover that the Reyan family were only happy to micturate on.


It’s all a mess, but one that seems to now absolve Berhalter. One wonders if this is enough for US Soccer to rehire him as manager, though they’ve tossed that decision to the sporting director… a position they’ve also yet to fill and aren’t really close to doing so. But hey, this is soccer in America, where it’s always someone else’s job, and more importantly, fault.