Photo: Darren Carroll/Getty Images
The red mist of Dest presents Berhalter with a dilemma
When Gio Reyna, of all players, is the voice of reason urging his teammate to calm down, swallow his frustrations and act even less, you know there’s a serious problem.
The immediate impact of Sergiño Dest’s two yellow cards for dissent during Monday’s second quarter-final of the Concacaf Nations League against Trinidad & Tobago was that the momentum shift was what was building. a comfortable night into a 2-1 loss.
The score was not big since the USMNT had a 3-0 advantage from the first game in Austin last Thursday. More consequential is the question of whether head coach Gregg Berhalter can trust the right back after his second petulant exit in five months.
Angry at being denied what he felt was a free kick for a foul minutes earlier, Dest launched the ball into the sky with the thrust of a SpaceX rocket, for which it had been reserved, then mouthed it to the referee, Walter López , earning the second yellow. and blowing him a kiss. This prompted the rare sight of the USA players not saluting the referee who drew the red but the teammate who received it. Defender Tim Ream came forward with Dest and was pushed off the field by goalkeeper Matt Turner.
“The behavior of the children,” former US coach DaMarcus Beasley said in the studio. He is now a pundit on TNT, a television channel and description of the Dest powder keg mentality. Was this temporary insanity caused by the unrestrained noise of cowbells rung by fans in the stands of Hasely Crawford Stadium? Or is this who Dest is? A volcano erupted with his team leading 4-0 on aggregate?
Dest was also sent off in June for pushing an opponent forward in the 85th minute after reacting furiously to some rough tackles on the wing during another advantageous situation, a 3-0 League of Nations win over Mexico. Then, as of Monday, he had provided assistance.
Berhalter took the lead from Reyna and introduced Dest understudy Joe Scally, but T&T quickly equalized and won the game with a 57th minute goal. In the end, the visitors were lucky to only lose by a one-goal margin.
Related: What’s wrong with Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund?
A case of grief should limit the damage
A year on from the dispute with Reyna that went nuclear and generated a radioactive seizure that lasted for months, Berhalter again finds himself needing to assert his authority over an unruly, talented young player. It won’t be as messy this time and the other players have made their opinions about Dest’s behavior clear. “Unprofessional moment,” left back Antonee Robinson said on TNT.
Berhalter told reporters that Dest “apologised to the group. He said it’s not going to happen again. As a team, players, the team, we have to hold him accountable because it’s unacceptable, it really is, and we were very firm with our words after the game.”
The coach added that he did not want to “witch hunt… he is a great part of this team. He’s going to learn, he’s going to grow. He made a dumb mistake and he knows it. He apologized to the team and we will move on.”
At least Dest’s mea culpa via Instagram was as heartfelt as his tantrum. He apologized to the “whole nation”, adding: “Immature and immature I let my team down! It’s something I have to learn from and it won’t happen again!”
Dest’s attacking gumption leaves him out of Berhalter’s other options at right back. But as word spreads among future opponents that Dest is a fuse waiting to be lit, the head coach will surely keep an even closer eye on 20-year-old Scally’s progress in the Bundesliga in the months ahead.
Although it has been the case for the United States recently, with a poor showing at left back against Germany in October, Dest’s splenetic behavior is difficult to understand. He’s 23, with 32 caps, so hardly inexperienced. He is on loan from Barcelona at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, the country of his birth, playing regularly for a Champions League team that has won 12 league games in total. He is rarely booked and has only picked up one yellow card for PSV this season.
The double debate continues
Sweet and sour, rain and light, fire and ice, Balogun and Pepi. It was or until last week: Ricardo Pepi was replaced by Folarin Balogun in each of his previous six caps. But in the first game against T&T the starters played together after Pepi came on in the 66th minute, and both started up front on Monday.
With the game heavily scarred by Dest’s departure it was difficult to draw any conclusions as to whether the pair could form a profitable partnership going forward. Balogun searched for space slightly behind Pepi, who was more of a traditional target man but did not muster a shot in his 65 minutes. More evidence is needed.
However, it is clear that Reyna will be central to Berhalter’s tactics if he decides not to leave a defensive midfielder to give the US attack sharp enough to take on their high-quality opponents in the tournament. The playmaker, a fire emoji made flesh, scored in the first leg of the last quarter and took it again in the second with some adroit passes. And for now, at least, it is appropriate. Last Thursday’s game was Reyna’s first full game for club or country since March 2022, after 51 consecutive appearances as a substitute or substitute.
Related: Start the rebuild: Alex Morgan left the latest USA squad
Comfort at home
It was the USMNT’s first return to Trinidad since 2017, when, you know. Let’s say it ended 2-1 to the home side as well and it was a long strike from Alvin Jones, and leave it at the. The next four meetings, all in the US, produced four American victories by a total margin of 22-0. Last week in Austin the USA had 75% possession and outshot T&T 26 to one.
The so-called home advantage in Concacaf tournaments is not news, but is it surprising that the USA is such a house member? This was USA’s 18th game of 2023 and only their second away game. (The other was a 7-1 win over Grenada – an island with a population of 125,000 – in March.) Of course, players often face hostile and unfamiliar environments with their clubs. But a lack of exposure to the tactical and practical challenges of road games certainly affects a team’s resilience.
Not that it will matter in the next few years, with no qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup since the United States are automatically included as co-hosts, with next year’s Copa América also in the United States, as are all Gold Cups. And indeed the 2028 Olympics.
Dealing with the Copa
The 4-2 aggregate win over T&T means the United States have qualified for next summer’s Copa. Tuesday’s market, incidentally, just twelve months since the USA opened their World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Great Britain. Will the United States enter the Copa a more formidable team than they were in Qatar?
Balogun and Pepi are certainly upgrades in form over the strikers the US took to Qatar and the mature and healthy Reyna promises to add an extra creative element. Tyler Adams’ long-term injury is a concern but most of Berhalter’s key players – Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Robinson – are still performing solidly and logging minutes for their clubs.
Likewise, things can change quickly. Just a month ago, Turner returned to England after he great save in a 4-0 win over Ghana. Two games later his club, Nottingham Forest, were relegated, and Jones’ free-kick should have saved him on Monday.
Although Cameron Carter-Vickers started both goals, Berhalter still appears to be experimenting at center back and is – understandably – still picking the venerable Ream, who will be 38 when the 2026 World Cup starts. Malik Tillman and Kevin Paredes more chances, but they did not take the opportunity to make an impact on T&T in the absence due to injury of Pulisic and Weah, who were clearly missed. In this light, Robinson, who scored in both goals and was the inspiration for numerous attacks, is indispensable.