The U.S. qualified for the 2024 Copa America on Monday night despite a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago.
The Americans held an early one-goal advantage in the first half in Port of Spain, Trinidad and seemed firmly in control of the game before Sergiño Dest was red-carded in the 39th minute after picking up two yellow cards inside of a minute in a bizarre sequence.
Dest was yellow carded for picking up the ball and drop-kicking it away after the ball was called out of bounds by the linesman. Dest then turned and started talking to the center referee, covering his mouth as he did so and gesturing toward the linesman. Dest seemed to be upset that an earlier foul committed on him was not called. Multiple teammates, including Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah and Tim Ream, tried to pull Dest away, but he continued talking to the referee and eventually blew a kiss. At that point he was shown a second yellow card, and therefore the red, and was ejected.
Sergiño Dest is sent off after receiving two back-to-back yellows 🔴
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— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 21, 2023
Both Ream and goalkeeper Matt Turner were seen to be yelling at Dest as he walked off the field and eventually into the locker room. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter immediately subbed right back Joe Scally into the game for Gio Reyna, but four minutes after Dest was sent off, Trinidad equalized the game on a goal from Reon Moore.
The U.S. held a three-goal lead entering the away leg and after Antonee Robinson’s diving header opened the scoring on Monday night they held a four-goal advantage with an away goal, which meant Trinidad and Tobago would need to score five unanswered goals in order to knock the U.S. out of the Nations League.
T&T took the 2-1 lead on Alvin Jones’ knuckling free kick in the 57th minute that somehow found its way through Turner’s hands. It was a familiar scoreline for the U.S. in Trinidad. They lost 2-1 in Couva, Trinidad in 2017, their last visit to the island nation, in the game that knocked them out of the 2018 World Cup. The U.S. was able to limit the damage at that point, however, and held on to secure their spot in the Copa America.
With the win, the U.S. also advances to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals in March. The U.S. won the first two editions of the Nations League and now have the opportunity to make it three straight.
What they’re saying
“It’s crazy, it’s unacceptable,” former USMNT star DaMarcus Beasley said on the TNT broadcast at halftime. “This is unacceptable. What he did just now to put his team, put the U.S. team under that kind of pressure going into the second half, going into a real game that matters. And now he misses the semifinal. I would love to know what made him that upset for him to kick a ball out of the stadium and then start yelling at his teammates as you’re going off the field.”
Beasley was asked what Dest’s teammates would say to him at halftime.
“I’m just going to my O.G.s. If this was Gregg Berhalter when he was a player and he was going to meet Sergiño Dest in the locker room, all hell would break loose,” Beasley said. “Same thing with Clint Dempsey. Same thing with Carlos Bocanegra. The captains of the national team. They are not going to let this slide.”
“I understand kicking the ball out of the stadium, you’re upset, but then you keep going and then you keep going, you blow kisses at the referee,” Beasley said. “For what? Because you didn’t get (a foul called on you). That’s baby behavior. I don’t understand that and I’m still upset about that.”
After the game, Berhalter spoke about Dest’s red card.
“He apologized to the group; he said it’s not going to happen again,” Berhalter said. “As a team, the players, the staff, we need to hold him accountable, because it’s inexcusable, it really is. We were very firm with our words after the game. He put a number of guys in jeopardy, made a number of guys do a lot of extra work in this weather. And it’s excusable.”
Berhalter faced several questions about Dest before saying he did not want it to be a “witch hunt” and said that the team will work to move forward from Monday’s red card.
“Serge has done a great job of maturing and growing over the years that he’s been with the group and, for him, this has to be a learning experience,” Berhalter said. “It will be a learning experience. How we work, we give people second chances, we work with people, we help them overcome instances like this. So, we’ll do the same with Sergio. He’s a talented player, an important part of our team. And we need to have good conversations with him (and) make sure we get him on the right track.”
The U.S. ‘A’ team won’t be together again until March, when they meet for the Nations League semifinal on March 21. The teams joining them in those games are yet to be determined.
Panama holds a 3-0 aggregate lead on Costa Rica and hosts them later on Monday night. Canada holds a 2-1 lead over Jamaica and Honduras has a 2-0 advantage over Mexico. Those games are scheduled to be played on Tuesday.
The U.S. traditionally holds a January camp for MLS-based players, though that camp has not yet been announced. It could be a prime opportunity, however, to bring in Olympic-eligible players and, as it traditionally does, build out the depth of the pool.
(Photo: Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.