USMNT’s most memorable moments of 2023: Gregg Berhalter’s return, Folarin Balogun’s pledge, Gio Reyna shines

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Following a performance at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that showed the potential of the U.S. men’s national team, the poor finishing left fans wondering what could’ve been. 2023 may have offered a solution to hit a new gear with plenty of excitement along the way. Gregg Berhalter is back for another World Cup cycle in charge of the team, Folarin Balogun is here and contributing, and Gio Reyna is also back following the fallout from his lack of playing time at the World Cup. There was even an interim manager before an interim to the interim manager had to be hired as 2023 had a little bit of everything.

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Before getting ready for 2024, which will see the USMNT take part in the Copa America, Olympics, and Nations League semifinals, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest moments of the year both good and bad.

May: Folarin Balogun chooses the USMNT For far too many years, the general view of the USMNT has been, “They create great chances but don’t have a striker that can put those chances in the back of the net.” From Josh Sargent to Daryl Dike, Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok and everything in between, 2023 may have changed that. In the midst of a 2023 in which he scored 21 league goals for Nice, the USMNT were able to have one of their biggest dual national recruits join the setup in Brooklyn-born Balogun committing his future to the red, white and blue. Representing both the United States and England at the youth level, the Arsenal academy player saw his star shine brightly earning both the chance to represent the United States and a permanent move to Monaco.

Balogun’s debut was a moment to remember as in July he joined for the Nations League semifinal and final. While Balogun didn’t score in his debut match, his presence was felt as Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah had more space to operate on the wings. Then, in the Nations League final, Balogun scored a goal to remember against Mexico to win his first trophy for the USMNT in his first international window representing them. With three goals and two assists for the USMNT in 2023, Balogun has been productive but is only scratching the surface of what the attack can look like with him in it which is exciting in 2024 preparation.

June: Gregg Berhalter returns After guiding the USMNT to the round of 16 at the World Cup in Qatar, it appeared that Berhalter would continue for another World Cup cycle until the Berhalter-Reyna family saga took center stage. The USMNT manager was suspended during a U.S. Soccer investigation into a past domestic violence incident involving Berhalter and his now-wife, Rosalind. It was revealed that the federation received a tip from Gio Reyna’s parents, Claudio and Danielle Reyna, who were dissatisfied with their son’s playing time during the World Cup. This prompted a USSF investigation into the incident and Berhalter.

During this period, Berhalter was suspended, and his assistant, Anthony Hudson, took over as interim manager. However, with Hudson accepting a position with Al-Markhiya SC in Qatar, Berhalter’s other assistant, B.J. Callaghan, had to take the reins. Callaghan’s stock rose with strong performances as he led the USMNT through the Gold Cup before Berhalter’s return.

While the USSF investigation did not uncover any other events in Berhalter’s past, it was still surprising to see him sign an extension as the USMNT manager. Claudio Reyna also stepped down from his role as sporting director of Austin FC in the aftermath. Berhalter successfully navigated qualification for the Nations League semifinals and Copa America, but many more victories are needed to put this saga behind him in 2023.

July: Olympic qualification is secured Paris 2024 is a go for the United States who have missed the Olympics since 2008. As a tournament mainly played in by the U-23 teams with a few over aged players allowed on the roster, it’s an excellent chance to test the next generation against the world’s best. It was an excellent all-around performance by the U-20s to secure that berth with a 3-0 victory over Honduras and some of those players involved like Jack McGlynn, Cade Cowell and Diego Luna will have a strong chance of making the Olympic roster as well. 

Head coach Mikey Varas even got a role as one of Berhalter’s assistants following the departure of Hudson but as he’s still responsible for U-20 duties, he will oversee the national team at the tournament. Like a few of the moments on the list, the fruits of Olympic qualification won’t be seen for a while but young players playing meaningful competitive matches is important to their development.

Oct.: Gio Reyna comes back and delivers While Reyna has struggled for playing time at Borussia Dortmund, he was able to make his return to the USMNT under Berhalter following the World Cup fallout and a leg injury against Germany in October of 2023. During that window Reyna shined, pressing well and also scoring two goals against Ghana. It was clear that Reyna was driven to put the past behind him and let his play speak for itself and he did just that. Reyna’s work rate was one of the concerns that came out of the World Cup but he was pressing, grabbing interceptions and being a pest all over the pitch.

Considering that Dortmund aren’t providing him with a chance to show what he can do, the time with the national team has also been a chance for Reyna to show other teams that he deserves a transfer if Dortmund will allow him to leave. It’s a similar situation to what Pulisic went through at Chelsea so there is a clear path that Reyna can follow. It works out quite well for the USMNT captain who is now starring for AC Milan so we could be seeing a turning point in Reyna’s career on the horizon.

Nov.: Getting by Trinidad & Tobago While the USMNT advanced to the 2024 Nations League semifinals and qualified for Copa America, it wasn’t smooth sailing as Trinidad and Tobago brought back memories of missing the 2018 World Cup as the Soca Warriors defeated the USMNT in the second leg of the Nations League quarterfinals in Trinidad. While the USMNT still advanced, due to winning the two-legged tie on aggregate, there wasn’t much to be happy about especially as Sergino Dest is suspended for the semifinal match due to being sent off in the match.

It was an avoidable situation but Dest didn’t like a foul call leading to him getting one yellow card for kicking the ball away and then another one shortly after for dissent. While talent wise, Dest is the best right backs currently in the pool, the reaction from teammates made it clear that he let the rest of the team down. If Dest can’t clean up mental mistakes like this, it could cause Berhaltrer to further explore other options at the position. 


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