The Yanks survived this time, riding the 3-0 advantage they’d built in the first leg in Austin on Thursday night to win the series 4-2 on aggregate and advance to the CNL semifinals, while also qualifying for next summer’s Copa América 2024 despite the Soca Warriors’ 2-1 comeback win in Port of Spain.
But this was one red card that may linger in the collective memory for quite a while.
“We achieved the objective of this camp, which was to qualify for the Copa América, for the semifinals of the Nations League. However, it’s not in the fashion that we would have wanted to,” said head coach Gregg Berhalter postgame.
“It is concerning, because that’s not what we want to represent. That’s not who we are as a group. We pride ourselves on staying mentally disciplined, battling through any type of conditions, whether they’re good decisions or bad decisions, we’re supposed to keep going,” he added of what he called a “surreal” sequence from Dest. “That obviously wasn’t the right response from Sergiño. He apologized to the group, he said it’s not going to happen again. As a team, players, the staff, we need to hold him accountable. Because it’s inexcusable. It really is.”
With real stakes on the line, Dest’s moment of madness imposed extra labor and stress, under muggy Caribbean conditions, on his colleagues. The ejection’s destabilizing effects clearly played a part in the USMNT conceding an equalizer via a rifled near-post strike by Reon Moore just minutes later.
And when goalkeeper Matt Turner couldn’t handle a viciously-struck knuckling free kick by Alvin Jones – the very same Alvin Jones who blasted the winner past Tim Howard in Couva back in 2017 – in the 57th minute, even the aggregate scoreline couldn’t calm the queasy sense of deja vu bubbling in the guts of so many Yanks faithful back home.
“When you’re down to 10 men, it’s basically doing everything you possibly can to get out of there with, obviously we know what the scoreline needed to be,” said captain Tim Ream, who lambasted Dest’s “complete lack of respect for guys on the bench, on the field” in postgame remarks to the media.
“When the second goal goes in, I just tried to grab guys, bring everyone in and say right, we need to do more, not do less. We’re down to 10, but everybody has to work that much harder. So yeah, it’s just keeping guys mentally focused, not getting too down about anything negative, any of the bad stuff that happens, be it a goal, be it a foul, be it whatever it is.”