Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
– Proverbs 16:18 (King James Version)
Claudio Reyna – now, and for the foreseeable future, disgraced – helped build New York City FC into a title contender after a stuttering inaugural season. I covered the Pigeons for the first three years of the team’s existence, and saw Reyna’s work first-hand. Reyna carried himself with swagger. I wouldn’t quite call it arrogance, but there’s a fine line between the two, and seeing the ridiculous, sad end of his narrative, it’s not hard to imagine how Reyna wound up where he is today.
One of the forgotten episodes of NYCFC’s founding was a documentary on the team simply titled, Win!, in which Reyna has a starring role. The film’s genius lies in capturing the gulf between how the team’s leadership imagined their first season would go — and how it actually went.
That first season was rough. It remains the only losing season in Pigeons’ history, featuring a shoddily-built team with three stars who struggled to play together, a badly-overmatched coach in Jason Kreis who joined the team as a can’t-miss leader and left it with his career permanently scarred, and marred by a farcical episode where one of those three stars – Frank Lampard – didn’t join the team until mid-season despite assurances by the team’s owners to the contrary. We don’t like talking about that first season, OK?
You see Reyna visibly struggle in that movie. Things weren’t going as he expected. At times, it’s difficult to watch. It’s Reyna’s first time as a sporting director, and you see him wrestle with some of the consequences of his decisions.
Here’s the thing, though: Reyna learned from his mistakes, at least on the sporting side. He became a genuinely good sporting director. The Pigeons made the playoffs every season since that first one. Between 2016 and 2019, New York City FC accumulated 231 points, the most of any team in the league during that time. The team that hoisted MLS Cup in 2021 was, in large part, a team that Reyna built through hard-won experience.
And just to prove that his success with New York City wasn’t a fluke, borne only out of City Football Group’s resources and reach, Reyna did it again with Austin FC. He joined the expansion team in November 2019; while they missed the playoffs their first season, they made the Western Conference Finals in 2021, and were a trendy pick to win MLS Cup this season.
But that’s the sporting side. Away from the field, his record is much less exemplary, and it calls his character into question. Yes, I’m talking about the sexual harassment allegations levied by former NYCFC physical training intern Skyler Badillo. Did I see this happen first-hand? No. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that Reyna didn’t turn a blind eye to it while it happened. The Athletic long-read on Badillo is devastating, and it is damning. I’ve been in enough male-dominated spaces — whether as a combat veteran, an athlete, or a reporter — to know that Badillo is telling the truth.
As a leader of men, Claudio Reyna had a duty of care to put a stop to this, and compel his subordinates to live up to the standards they said they believe in — including creating a safe working environment, free of harassment. He didn’t. We can logically reason that his commitment to those standards was equivocal based not just on those events described in the Athletic, but also on comments he made in a 2018 email complaining about a female official in a match in which his son Gio played:
This is the kind of ugly, repulsive sexism that we have condemned in fans. From a man leading a flagship team in a country’s top division, it is utterly unacceptable — and it goes a long way towards explaining why NYCFC – and specifically, its physical training facilities, including its locker room – was a hostile working environment.
And yet: all this is not why Claudio Reyna stands disgraced today. We know why: Because he and his wife tried leveraging a sad, isolated domestic episode between two people who desperately wanted it to remain far in the past for his son’s benefit as blackmail. The investigation is now over, and it is damning.
It didn’t have to be this way, and yet I look back to the times I spoke with Reyna that first season, remembering how he carried himself, the breezy swagger with which he brushed aside my questions, and those others asked, and wonder: How could it have been any other way? Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
And now that haughty spirit has fallen.
Maybe it’ll rise again. I’m not nearly naive enough about sports to think that it cannot. But I can only hope that when Claudio Reyna comes back, he does so with genuine humility and remorse.