Despite a 2-1 defeat at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, they did meet their objective by prevailing in the two-game series on total goals, 4-2 — “but not in the fashion that we would have wanted,” Coach Gregg Berhalter said.
A 3-0 victory Thursday in Austin had provided a cozy cushion. But Dest’s stunning lack of composure resulted in a red card, left his team down a man and changed the tenor of a quiet match. He will miss the Nations League semifinal March 21 in Arlington, Tex.
Berhalter said Dest’s behavior was “concerning. … We pride ourselves in staying mentally disciplined.”
Dest apologized to the team, Berhalter said.
“We need to hold him accountable because it’s inexcusable,” the coach added. “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 [warm] weather.”
The 23-year-old right back, who started at the World Cup in Qatar, was seemingly upset about contact in the attacking end. A moment later, when he wasn’t able to keep the ball in bounds near midfield, he booted the ball into the stands.
Referee Walter López issued a yellow card. Dest complained. Fearing another card, teammates Gio Reyna, Tim Ream and Yunus Musah tried calming Dest down. He persisted. López flashed a second yellow.
Ream, the captain, fumed and gestured at Dest. Goalkeeper Matt Turner laid into him and, in an effort to get Dest off the field more quickly, pushed him. Dest then said something to Turner.
On Instagram, Dest called his actions “selfish and immature. … It won’t happen again.”
Left back Antonee Robinson called it a “moment of unprofessionalism. … People can make mistakes, and it’s just a big mistake.”
In the locker room at halftime, players had “choice words” for Dest, Ream said. “It’s a complete lack of respect for the guys that are playing, for the guys that are on the bench,” the captain added. “It’s a lack of respect for the game itself, for the referees.”
Dest also received a red card in the 2022-23 Nations League semifinal last summer against Mexico, leaving him unavailable for the final.
“What I don’t want this to turn into is a witch hunt,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player. He’s a fantastic part of this team. He’s going to learn. He’s going to grow. He made a dumb mistake. He knows that.”
Four minutes after Dest’s outburst, Reon Moore scored the equalizer. Eleven minutes into the second half, Alvin Jones’s booming free kick put the Soca Warriors ahead.
The hosts, ranked 99th by FIFA, needed three more goals to win the series; tying it on aggregate wouldn’t have been enough to force extra time because the 11th-ranked visitors led the first tiebreaker, away goals, on Robinson’s header in the 25th minute.
The match was the U.S. team’s first visit to the Caribbean nation since another nightmarish match: In October 2017, a 2-1 upset loss to a last-place opponent on the last day of qualifying ended a streak of seven consecutive World Cup appearances.
Following that catastrophic result, the Americans won the next four meetings by a 22-0 margin, including Thursday’s victory in Texas. That one did not come easy, though; the Soca Warriors kept the game scoreless until late.
Midfielder Weston McKennie missed the second game because of a knee ailment, joining fellow stalwarts Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Tyler Adams on the injury list.
The Americans could have put the two-leg outcome to rest in the first four minutes, but Denzil Smith made two excellent saves. In the 25th minute, though, Dest swung a cross into the heart of the penalty area. Robinson stung a diving header from 10 yards into the right corner for his second goal in four days.
“Everything was going smoothly, and then a regrettable moment put us at a big disadvantage,” Berhalter said.
After Dest’s red card, Moore held off Cameron Carter-Vickers and ripped an angled shot over Turner. Early in the second half, Jones, who also scored in the 2017 upset, smashed a free kick. Turner got a hand on the high, knuckling shot but couldn’t stop it.
The U.S. team was shaken by the turn of events, and if not for wayward shooting and Turner’s two quality saves, the pressure would have ramped up.
Instead, the visitors escaped, no thanks to Dest.
To get back in his teammates’ good graces, Dest has “got to show with not just saying sorry but show with his actions that we can trust him to be someone we can rely on, on and off the pitch,” Robinson said.
Berhalter echoed those sentiments.
“We give people second chances,” he said. “We work with people. We help them overcome instances like this. We’ll do the same with Sergiño. … We need to have good conversations with them to make sure we get them on the right track.”