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USMNT super subs Haji Wright, Gio Reyna help Gregg Berhalter avert crisis under unique circumstances

ARLINGTON, Texas — The U.S. men’s national team arrived in Texas with plenty of optimism ahead of their Concacaf Nations League semifinal against Jamaica. Head coach Gregg Berhalter boasted that the player pool was so deep that he had to make tough choices with his roster selection, and high-profile players like Christian Pulisic were in stellar form for their clubs coming into the match.

Before the first minute of play was over at AT&T Stadium on Thursday, though, that positivity felt like a distant memory.

Jamaica’s Greg Leigh scored in the first minute, making the next 90-plus feel like an exercise in potential that was not going to be realized as the USMNT wasted shot after shot while holding more than 80% of the ball. Things finally turned their way in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time when Cory Burke scored an own goal that forced the game to extra time, and then a pair of unlikely heroes stepped up — substitutes Gio Reyna and Haji Wright.

Reyna assisted both of Wright’s goals in extra time, allowing the USMNT to cruise through the last 30 minutes of the game. For the former, some might argue the moment was a long time coming — he has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the player pool but has struggled for playing time at his new club, Nottingham Forest. The lack of fitness did not matter for Berhalter.

“He showed why he got called into camp,” Berhalter said after the match. “Amazing quality, amazing talent and for us, it’s about supporting him through the difficult times of adapting to the Premier League, but his quality is unquestionable. When you see the plays he made on both the second and third ball, but I think most importantly, the ball he wins and makes the pass, he has that quality that not many players have and it’s clear that he deserves to play.”

Reyna seemed to perfectly execute the role of a substitute, coming on at halftime and emerging as the attacking player with the third-most touches at the end of his 75-minute shift.

“Not our best performance today and I just tried to bring a little light to the team,” Reyna said post game.

The moment almost marks the official burying of a hatchet between Berhalter and Reyna, who were locked in a family feud early last year but worked peacefully together for several months and are happy to admit as much.

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

Reyna’s stock jumped considerably ahead of June’s Copa America, considered an important measuring stick for the USMNT as they prepare for the 2026 World Cup on home soil, but no one made a stronger case for himself than the midfielder’s partner on Thursday, Wright. He is coming off another career highlight five days earlier in England, where he scored the game-winner for Coventry City in their FA Cup upset of Wolverhampton Wanderers. He’s in the midst of a 15-goal season for the Championship side but was one of the last invitees to the USMNT’s camp, only named to the roster on Sunday to replace the injured Josh Sargent.

“He actually got coaches’ man of the match [award] for good reason,” Berhalter said, “because you have to shake off the disappointment of not getting selected in the first place, then you come into the group. It’s always odd because you feel like you’re a second choice but when I called him and told him he wasn’t in the team, the message was, ‘Listen, you’re doing everything right. You can’t do anything more so just be patient.'”

If Wright’s call-up was a surprise, so was the destination he found himself in when Berhalter rang him up — the airport. It wasn’t as convenient a location as you might expect, though.

“When we called him to come in …  he was getting on a plane to go to Dubai,” Berhalter divulged. “He had a family vacation planned for the international break and so I called him and he was like, ‘Oh, I’m at the airport and my whole family’s here, my agent’s already there and my girlfriend, she planned the whole thing.’

“I said, ‘Let’s hang up and just think about it. Process it, right? I know it’s a lot of information right now for you to handle. I know you got your parents, the bags are packed, and you’re at the airport, but just think about it for 10 minutes and give me a call back,’ and he called me back and he said, ‘I’m in.'”

Wright admitted that there was not much to contemplate.

“I wasn’t really thinking,” he said after the match. “I was just with my family and my son so I just had to let them know that I wasn’t going on vacation with them, that I was going to cone to the national squad and hopefully help them into the final.”

Several of Wright’s teammates were complimentary of his outing on Thursday, considering it was his first inclusion for a USMNT game since the 2022 World Cup. He emerged as the personification of the team’s ability to claw their way back into the match and ensured the U.S. would play their third straight Nations League final on Sunday.

As Reyna put it simply, Wright deserves “a lot of credit to him for digging deep.”

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