Analysis and Player ratings: A Dest meltdown sees the USMNT lose to T&T but still advance
November 20, 2023
THE UNITED STATES national team concluded its 2023 calender year in disappointing fashion with a 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain on Monday night. The result was enough for the team to advance 4-2 on aggregate to qualify for both the Nations League semifinal and the 2023 Copa America, but the performance left a lot to be desired - specifically with Sergino Dest who was sent off in the 39th minute.
The United States opened the scoring in the 25th minute off a nice diving header from Antonee Robinson who got on the end of a well-delivered cross from Dest.
But the game became unglued in the 39th minute when Dest was sent off following an call from the officials and afterward the PSV fullback punted the ball into the crowd and continued to argue. A yellow card was followed by a red card. Dest’s U.S. teammates including Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah were trying to calm Dest down. Captain Tim Ream then proceeded to yell at Dest on the field as he slowly left. Matt Turner was also harsh with Dest.
Once Dest left the field, Trinidad & Tobago almost immediately equalized when former Forward Madison fullback Alvin Jones played Reon Moore into the box in transition. Moore was able to beat Cameron Carter-Vickers on speed. Turner lost his footing on Moore’s shot from a tight angle which found the back of the net.
Then in the 57th minute, Jones put T&T in front with a well-struck free kick that was savable but dipped and swerved off the fingertips of Turner for a 2-1 lead.
From there, T&T continued to have the better of chances but the U.S. team was able to settle down and see out what was a one-goal loss but an overall aggregate win.
Sergino Dest’s behavior in the events which saw him sent off was baffling. There is a lot of talk on this team about second chances and maturing. But lost in this red card is the note that it was his second red card for the national team of 2023 after he was sent off late in the team’s 3-0 win over Mexico in the Nation’s League semifinal in June.
Dest might be young. But this is a player who has played in Champions League games for Ajax, Barcelona, AC Milan, and now PSV Eindhoven. He’s also played in the World Cup. This was not a “heat of the moment” reaction. He punted the ball away and continued to argue with the officials despite pleas from his teammates.
It’s not a matter of apologizing and moving beyond it. Dest apologized and that’s fine. But there are now “trust issues” with him. Does he run the risk of putting his team in bad situations again? This wasn’t strike one. This was strike two.
Afterward, Berhalter admitted it “was a concern” given that this wasn’t a first-time incident for Dest. Berhalter said it was inexcusable but also shot down hints of an extended absence from the team. After the third question about Dest, Berhalter said he doesn’t want to turn it into a “witch hunt.”
"Sergino has done a great job of maturing and growing over the years that he's been with the group," Berhalter said. "For him, this has to be a learning experience. It will be a learning experience. We give people second chances. We work with people, we help them overcome instances like this. We'll do the same with Sergino. He's a talented player, an important part of our team, and we need to have good conversations with him to make sure we get him on the right track."
Ream chimed in and spoke of the disappointment in Dest but also said he will need to show improvement beyond words.
"Words with him would be putting it nicely, to be completely honest with you," Ream said. "And there were a lot of choice words at halftime."
"We are a pretty forgiving group," Ream added. "We understand that we're a young group. People can make mistakes and it's just a big mistake. There's not really any excuse for it. The only thing I think Sergino can do is hold his hand up, hold himself accountable, and when he is inevitably called upon again to be a part of this group, he has got to show with not just words saying sorry, but show with his actions that we can trust him to be someone we can rely on and off the pitch."
Of course, this is not the first time the U.S. team has had to deal with a lack of maturity and decision-making. There obviously was the Gio Reyna incident at the World Cup and then there was Weston McKennie’s incident in qualifying.
But both of those incidents were off the field. Dest now has two ugly incidents on the field in competitive games.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, staff, fans, and whole nation for my behavior,” Dest wrote on Instagram after the game. “It was unacceptable, selfish, and immature. I let my team down! It's something I have to learn from, and it won't happen again.”
As Ream said, it’s more than words. Dest will eventually be put in a frustrating moment on the field when emotions will be strong. Only by keeping his cool in those situations will this be put behind him.
Dest is now suspended for the Champions League semifinal. It remains to be seen if Berhalter will call him up in March or whether the next time we see Dest is in the summer.
As for the team’s performance, the team started off well and was dominant for at least the first 30 minutes, and probably until Dest’s red card. The only thing that was missing was finishing. But the chances were there and the U.S. team started off the game well.
But the team did not respond well after the red card. The backline became a mess and T&T started to generate real chances quickly.
Matt Turner could have prevented both goals, with the second goal having been more savable.
In the second half, the U.S. team needed players to step up with big individual efforts since they were down a man. But unfortunately, no one rose to the occasion. It was a tough game for Luca de la Torre and Brenden Aaronson, Yunus Musah, and Malik Tillman who couldn’t feed the attack much in the second half.
Even down to 10 players, the U.S. still had a lot of talent on the field but they weren’t able to do much with it.
A new formation
One of the more interesting takeaways from this game that is lost in the discussion due to Dest was the return of the 4-4-2 formation. This is a formation that used to be preferred years ago under Bob Bradley and the first Bruce Arena tenure but hasn’t been tried since.
There is plenty of reason to think it would be useful in certain situations for the U.S. team when it is short on wingers – like this camp. Balogun and Ricardo Pepi could benefit from being on the field together.
Apparently Berhalter agreed and he was willing to try this formation despite never having practiced with it (something he admitted after the game in the press conference). In reality, it looked more like a 4-2-2-2 with Musah and de la Torre behind Aaronson and Reyna
The U.S. team was very dangerous and was on the front foot the first 30 minutes. The team benefitted from having an extra midfielder and the fullbacks were able carry the attack from the wide positions. It was working well but Dest’s red card really made relearning this formation on the fly an impossibility.
It raises the question whether the 4-4-2 is still optimal when Weah and/or Pulisic are healthy. Then the U.S. team would have wingers for a 4-3-3. The answer is probably no. But it’s very good for the U.S. team to be able to have different formations it is comfortable with.
Matt Turner: The U.S. goalkeeper could have done better on both goals. Rating: 4.0
Antonee Robinson: scored the only goal and was by far the best U.S. player over both games this camp. Rating: 7.0
Tim Ream: Was exposed for pace a little bit when the game was open in the first half and when T&T had more space in the second half. Still, he wasn’t at fault for either goal. Rating: 5.0
Cameron Carter-Vickers: Was beaten for pace on Moore’s first goal. Rating: 4.5
Sergino Dest: Nice assist but clearly put the U.S. team in a game-changing and bad spot with his tantrum. Rating: 3.0
Yunus Musah: The AC Milan midfielder couldn’t break down T&T’s defense and create much. T&T did a good job containing him. Rating: 5.0
Luca de la Torre: Was slightly more effective than Musah, but not by much in terms of creating dangerous chances – which is what this team needed with two forwards up top. Rating: 5.5
Gio Reyna: He was moving the ball well and was a boost to the attack before being sacrificed for a defender after Dest’s meltdown. Rating: 6.0
Brenden Aaronson: Worked hard, drew four fouls, but was also 0/5 in his tackles – one of which gave T&T the free kick on the winning goal. He had two shots saved and was effective early in creating chances before the team went down a man. Rating: 5.5
Ricardo Pepi: It was a tough game for Pepi, even when the teams were even 11v11. Pepi didn’t have a shot and had just one touch in the T&T box. He had a few nice moments in hold-up play and some good passes, but it wasn’t what he wanted or what the team needed. Rating: 5.0
Folarin Balogun: Forced a big save early in the game and narrowly missed two other times. It was frustrating for him, but at least he was in a dangerous position multiple times. Rating: 5.5
Joe Scally: Came into the game earlier than expected for Dest and never seemed at ease – caught out of position a few times. Rating: 4.5
Malik Tillman: A few nice moments here and there came up empty. Rating: 5.0
Lennard Maloney: an uneventful outing cap-tied him to the U.S. program. Rating: NR